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Johannes Steffens

was born in Chicago, Illinois, the oldest of two sons of Camille and William Lowry, both postal workers. Lowry grew up in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood and graduated from Francis Parker High School in 1952. He studied history at Kenyon College in Ohio, graduating with a B.A. in 1956 and lettering in football, baseball, and basketball. Lowry gained prominence in fraternity circles as “the Kenyon affair” because he was the first African American to join Beta Theta Pi despite opposition from the fraternity’s national chapter and other Southern chapters that were against extending full membership to black students. Lowry completed a part-time master’s program in industrial relations at Chicago’s Loyola University in 1969.

After serving in the U.S. Air Force for two years and working as an athletic director and teacher at his former high school, Lowry joined Inland Steel Company in 1962 as the first black member ...