Black History Month: Legacy of Dr. John H. Lowery remembered

Courtesy City of Donaldsonville

Dr. John Harvey Lowery, also known as J. H. Lowery, was a physician and philanthropist in Ascension Parish.

Born Oct. 18, 1860 in Plaquemine in Iberville Parish, he later took residence in Donaldsonville.

Dr. John Lowery's office was moved to Louisiana Square in Donaldsonville as a memorial to his pioneering work.

One of 19 children, Dr. Lowery’s parents were John Harvey Lowery Sr. (1834-1907), a bricklayer from Virginia, and Elizabeth (Carson) Lowery (1835-1919), a midwife from Tennessee. He completed a full course of study at Straight College in New Orleans, after which he pursued medicine in the Medical College in New Orleans University. He graduated with a Doctor of Medicine degree from New Orleans University on Feb. 21, 1894.

Dr. Lowery established his practice on 412 Charles St. in Donaldsonville. He would also later practice out of a small red shotgun-style building on Railroad Avenue from 1894 until his death on Sept. 25, 1941.

Throughout his life Dr. Lowery heavily invested in real estate, accumulating 50 pieces of property in the Donaldsonville Historic District. One of the most successful businessmen in Donaldsonville, he owned and operated a mercantile department store for a number of years. He eventually closed it due to health and began farming.

A successful planter, Dr. Lowery acquired a property known as the Babin Place in Modeste, which he renamed the Africa Plantation. During his tenure as owner it was fashioned into a 600-acre sugar cane and 600-acre rice farm. In these cane and rice fields, Dr. Lowery afforded permanent year-round employment to over 200 men and women.

He also established and ran one of the first pharmacies in Donaldsonville. A close friend and associate of Walter L. Cohen, he was active in the insurance industry and served as one of the co-founders and board members of Mr. Cohen’s People’s Industrial Life Insurance Company in New Orleans.

Deeply committed to improving education, Dr. Lowery believed it to be a tool to build community and improve the situation of impoverished African-Americans. He viewed education as the only way for people and communities to flourish, and actively worked to establish schools to promote opportunities for learning. Dr. Lowery donated extensively to education for example, in 1937 he sponsored a movement to build a modern school in Ascension Parish to ensure that African-American youth received access to quality education.

Named the Lowery Training School in honor of Dr. Lowery’s instrumental role in establishing and funding the building, the school later became known as Lowery Middle School during integration in the 1960s. Dr. Lowery even served as Chairman of the Advisory Board of Education for the Lowery Training School in Donaldsonville.

His commitment to education in the region extended to donating land for a school in Modeste, a rural community between Donaldsonville and White Castle.

Dr. Lowery was very active in civic matters, as well as local, state and national politics. An advocate of equal rights, Dr. Lowery fought to improve accommodations for African-Americans on the railroads of Louisiana through his committee, the State Railroad Commission (the precursor to the Louisiana Public Service Commission).

Through his work, he was successful in campaigning for equality in railroad accommodations. A life-long member of the Republican Party, Dr. Lowery was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions of 1892, 1916, 1920, 1924, 1928, and 1940. He was also a member of the Republican State Central Committee.

Active in fraternal societies, Dr. Lowery served as Secretary of the Endowment Department of the District Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows for the state of Louisiana and was a prominent member of the Grand General Independent Order of Brothers and Sisters of Charity North America, South America, Liberia and Adjacent Islands.

Dr. Lowery died at the Flint-Goodridge Hospital in New Orleans on Sept. 25, 1941. Years after his passing, he was fondly remembered as an attentive father and dedicated citizen. A dynamic man who deeply affected his community, town members also remembered him as “King Fisherman,” an avid fisherman who took his family and employees on fishing excursions.

Almost 80 years after the first school bore Dr. Lowery’s name, his contributions have a lasting effect. In 2005, the Donaldsonville School Board dedicated two new schools, Lowery Intermediate and Lowery Elementary in his memory, maintaining a connection to the physician and to honor his contributions to community and education. The little red building on Louisiana Square out of which Dr. Lowery practiced medicine from 1894 to 1941 is now part of the collection of the River Road African American Museum (RRAAM). 

Dr. Lowery further helped establish practices for other African-American physicians in the Donaldsonville area. When his son-in-law, Dr. Sidney Brazier, took over his pharmacy, it aided in Dr. Brazier becoming one of the most prominent residents of Donaldsonville. Dr. Lowery’s work was so profound, that in his 1941 obituary, it was stated that his legacy reached across racial lines. His philanthropic legacy is carried on by such charitable organizations as the John Harvey Lowery Foundation in Louisiana, which strives to reduce poverty and increase educational opportunities.

The City of Donaldsonville provided this text from the mayor's updates broadcast live on Facebook and local radio.