Joseph Lowery, civil rights leader and MLK aide, dies at 98

In this Aug. 14, 2013, file photo, civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery speaks at an event in Atlanta announcing state lawmakers from around the county have formed an alliance they say will combat restrictive voting laws. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

ATLANTA (AP) — The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a civil rights leader who helped the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has died at 98.

A charismatic and fiery preacher with oratory skills on par with King, Lowery led the SCLC for two decades.

He remained an active force in social issues such as war and poverty long after his retirement.

Lowery was considered the dean of civil rights veterans and lived to celebrate a milestone that few of them thought they would ever witness the election of an African American president.

President Barack Obama awarded Lowery the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. A family statement says Lowery died Friday.