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America's civil rights leader Joseph Lowery dies, aged 98

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(Reuters) - The Reverend Joseph Lowery, a key ally of Martin Luther King in the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s, died late on Friday at the age of 98, his family said in a statement.

“Our beloved, Rev. Dr. Joseph Echols Lowery, made his transition peacefully at home at 10 p.m., Friday, March 27, at the age of 98. He was surrounded by his daughters,” Lowery’s family said.

Lowery was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama in 2009, a few months after he had given the benediction at Obama’s inauguration.

Lowery co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King and other black ministers in 1957, to fight segregation across the U.S. South. He served for 20 years as its president before stepping down in 1998.

He continued working for racial equality into his 90s.

He spoke against South African apartheid, sought better conditions in U.S. jails, pushed for more economic opportunities for minorities, promoted AIDS education and railed against what he saw as government indifference toward the lower classes.

Lowery was married to Evelyn Gibson Lowery, who shared his activism, for 63 years before her death in 2013. The Lowery Institute, now known as the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights, was founded in his honor in 2001 and he was a member of its board.

Reporting by Sangameswaran S and Rebekah Mathew in Bengaluru; Editing by Shri Navaratnam & Simon Cameron-Moore