Isaac Lowe, Civil Rights Matriarch, Remembered and Honored

Tuesday morning, a white, resplendent open casket was displayed before the altar of the First Baptist Church in Redding. It held the body of 94-year-old Isaac Jefferson Lowe, so beautifully serene; elegantly dressed in a delicately beaded ivory gown.

During the two-hour “home-going” service, hundreds of people honored and remembered Lowe’s 94-year life and legacy.

The community came out to say goodbye to Isaac Lowe, civil rights leader, Tuesday morning at the First Baptist Church in Redding. Photo courtesy of Les Baugh

People came to honor and remember Isaac Lowe, a north state civil rights leader, Tuesday morning at the First Baptist Church in Redding. Photo courtesy of Les Baugh

As each person spoke, themes emerged, and with the themes came accolades, titles and names.

So many names.

Mrs. Lowe. Mother Isaac. Sister Lowe. Mother, grandmother, greatgrandmother Lowe. The mother of Shasta County’s civil rights movement. A woman of God. A soldier. Courageous. An icon. The matriarch of Redding’s black community. The cornerstone of her church. A willing worker. A righteous woman. An independent person. A mover and shaker. Tenacious. A brave leader. Rock-solid. An advocate.

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“She stood for people of every color, ” said Shasta Lake Mayor Rod Lindsey. “She knew how to walk the walk.”

Shasta County Supervisor Leonard Moty said Lowe helped the powerless, long after others would have given up. He recalled how Lowe once shared with him her late father’s advice: Always listen to the little voice inside before taking action.

Lowe’s little voice must have been busy, because her life contained countless actions she took on for the good of people and her community. One of Lowe’s first significant actions in Redding was when she and her late husband started the area’s first National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter.

And she was instrumental in founding the Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Community Center in Redding. But as Lowe often told people, she was most proud of her unrelenting quest – for 13 years – that finally convinced the city of Redding to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday in 2002.

Ten years earlier she was named Redding’s Citizen of the Year.

“She was working for justice, equality and fairness for all,” Moty said. “She was calm and direct; a champion for the underdog.”

In his capacity as a supervisor, Moty announced that just that morning, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors had voted unanimously to proclaim Jan. 23 as Isaac Lowe Day, news that brought applause from the audience.

Moty smiled as he recalled Lowe, and her gift of persuasion.

“She’d say, ‘Would you consider?’ She always left the door open for communication.”

There were other stories, such as one told by Emily Cunnison of the Western Service Workers, about the time Lowe – who had multiple degrees – and another friend, who was also black, applied for a job with the Shasta County welfare department. Shortly after dropping off their applications, the friend realized she’d omitted something, so Lowe suggested they go back and ask to include the information on their applications. But when the women returned, their applications were not on file.

Lowe had a suggestion for the receptionist.

“Why don’t you look in the waste basket.”

The receptionist did, and that’s where she found the applications. Cunnison said at first, Lowe declined to accept the job that was offered shortly after the discarded-applications incident, but Lowe soon changed her mind. That led to a successful 17-year career with Shasta County Social Services. There, because of her reputation for being compassionate, she was often asked for by name, whether it was to help people secure benefits, or to disarm a distraught man who’d entered the lobby with a gun.

Fran Brady, Lowe’s friend of 40 years, said Lowe was a tireless leader, whose tenacity knew no bounds.

“She had inborn leadership,” Brady said. “…You couldn’t pile enough obstacles in front of her.”

Another friend, Paula Percy, drew laughter from the crowd when she mentioned Lowe’s favorite big blue car. And she remembered Lowe’s determination to travel to Washington, D.C., to attend Barack Obama’s inauguration. But Percy said it wasn’t enough for Lowe to be there, she wanted to sit as close as possible.

“She never thought she’d live to see the first African American president,” Percy said. “She sat 100 yards from President Obama. She sat in the freezing cold, wearing that beige hat and coat. Nothing would stop her from seeing that inauguration.”

Many people talked about Lowe’s hospitality, and her gift for conversation.

“You knew when you stopped to visit you were going to be there a while,” Percy said.

As Minister Sid Riley, retired Redding Police officer, conducted the eulogy, a slideshow of Lowe’s life flashed on the screen behind him. Photos appeared of Lowe as a young mother, and on a tractor with a child, and as a wife with her husband, and with friends, and at the White House, and at official gatherings, and many, many events.

Riley said Lowe was a “force” whose steps were ordained by God. He talked of her early years, before thoughts of being a civil rights advocate had entered her mind, when Lowe boarded a bus holding her infant son, and she stood for the entire ride, because being black meant nobody would offer her a seat.

“That sparked something,” Riley said. “She said, ‘It made up my mind. I’m going to fight injustice.’ ”

He said that when Lowe left the South and moved to Redding, she was surprised at what she encountered.

“Sister Lowe was born in Texas, and expected to leave hate and prejudice behind,” he said.

Instead, she found conditions worse for blacks here than in the place she’d left.

“Some say, ‘It is what it is,’ ” Riley said. “She didn’t do that.”

Riley supposed there were times when Lowe was discouraged, and tired, but she never gave up.

And now, her work is done.

“She lived a full life,” he said. “She ran the race set before her, and she left a wake behind her.”

 • A ceremony to celebrate Isaac Lowe’s life, civil rights work and many community contributions is planned at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center at 1815 Sheridan St. in Redding at 11 a.m. on Jan. 18 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Another community celebration of Isaac Lowe’s life will be held on Sat. Jan. 23 – Isaac Lowe Day – at Sequoia Middle School Auditorium at 1803 Sequoia St. in Redding. The program begins at 2 p.m. The reception will be held in the school’s cafeteria at 3:30 p.m.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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6 Responses

  1. What a moving tribute, and we’ll documented.

     

  2. Avatar Stan Morgan says:

    Dear Doni,

    I just read your story on Isaac Lowe. It was absolutely fabulous. You pegged Isaac. Well done.

     

  3. Avatar Breakfast Guy says:

    Dear Doni,

    I applaud your beautiful tribute to this very brave and deserving lady.

  4. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    WHAT A MONUMENT . . . both the subject and the written piece. Thank you.

  5. Thanks, Robb, Stan, Breakfast Guy and A.J.

    Her service was a moving tribute to this irreplaceable woman. Later I’ll write another piece that’s my personal reflections about Isaac.

    I must say, as a writer, I really wrestled with this piece. It tumbled around in my head for hours. The service held such an embarrassment of riches of information. I had a hard time knowing what to keep and what to leave out. I also struggled with the lede about the casket, knowing that some readers might find it inappropriate. I took that part out and put it back in. To me, not mentioning it was kind of like not mentioning the most prominent thing in the room. I almost didn’t walk past her casket, but went anyway, and was glad I did. She really looked so beautiful that I just had to mention it.

    Writing feature obituaries and stories about people’s funerals is a form of writing I take so seriously, because it’s a last long look at that person’s entire life, and I want to do it justice. It’s one of the only times when I can feel the weight of the family sitting on my shoulders, scrutinizing my words for accuracy. That feeling is compounded when the subject is a departed community treasure like Isaac Lowe.

  6. Avatar Sally says:

    Unfortunately I did not know Isaac Lowe, but having lived in Redding 50 years, I surely was aware of all she did.  It makes one realize that our politicians should be as giving for others as she was.  Our community was blessed to have her among us!