The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, often called the SCLC, was one of the most important participants in civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The organization still advocates for social justice issues. Although influential in other Southern states, this national organization has always been based in Atlantaand Georgia was the home of many of its founders and leaders.
The SCLC has its origins in several mid-20th century developments. Black veterans returning from service in The Second World War (1941-45) were no longer willing to accept the domestic injustices against which they had fought abroad; Southern black churches were powerful social institutions; Black voters were becoming increasingly involved in the Democratic Party; and the Supreme Court of 1954 Brown v. School Board The move strengthened a national movement to desegregate public schools. African Americans began to band together in local political clubs and attract a broad base of supporters, many of whom felt that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had too bad a reputation among white people.
The event that sparked the formation of the SCLC was the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1955-56. Although not started by church leaders, the movement was soon joined by Montgomery’s black ministers, who kept the boycott alive and ensured its ultimate success. Born in Georgia Martin Luther King Jr., then living in Montgomery and recognized for his courage, intelligence and leadership abilities, was chosen as spokesperson. News of the boycott (and others in Birmingham, Alabama and Tallahassee, Florida) was carried all year by the New York Times. As a result, activists of both races saw an opportunity nationally to broaden the boycott movement into a Southern civil rights movement.
During a lecture at King’s Alma Mater, Morehouse College in Atlanta, participants discussed the creation of a civil rights organization. Southerners and Northerners at the conference decided to keep a regional focus, include “Christian” in its title to attract as many church leaders and laypeople as possible, and establish its headquarters in Atlanta, where a large, financially secure business center. social class black population, including many elite graduates Black colleges there, we could call on their support. The SCLC was officially inaugurated in Atlanta on January 10–11, 1957, and a follow-up meeting was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, several weeks later on the following February 14.
From its beginnings, the SCLC was an urban organization. Many historians attribute its early success in attracting members to King’s abilities and prestige. Other Georgians who played important roles in the SCLC’s early efforts included King’s wife, Coretta Scott King; Ralph David Abernathy; Joseph Lowery; And Andrew Young.
As headquarters, Atlanta was naturally the center of SCLC’s early activities in Georgia. In many cases, action was initiated by another civil rights organization (such as Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or the Congress of Racial Equality), with King and other SCLC members joining in to help. At the request of Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta University) and Morehouse College studentsKing joins a sit-ins on October 19, 1960, at the Magnolia tea room in Rich Department Store in downtown Atlanta. He and many others were arrested and jailed under a recently passed anti-trespassing law. This brought national attention to the civil rights cause.
SCLC leaders made training new political activists in nonviolent tactics a priority and opened the Dorchester Center to Liberty County where they trained hundreds of volunteers over the following years. It was here that one of the most important campaigns, the Birmingham, Alabama protests of 1963, was planned.
Efforts in Georgia
Notable Georgia actions involving SCLC include class action lawsuits filed against state and local governments for maintaining separated employee canteens; sit-ins (and their variations such as “wade-ins” and “kneel-ins”); rallies and marches organized to desegregate public places; voter registration drives; and boycotts against merchants who did not want to desegregate their stores. Additionally, major campaigns in other states were planned at SCLC headquarters in Atlanta.
In December 1961, a series of mass meetings and protest marches known as the Albany Movement because desegregation began in Albania. Its leaders invited King and Abernathy to speak at a rally, and the two men then led about 264 people to Albany City Hall, where they were arrested for marching without a permit. Although the city agreed to some desegregation measures, it quickly returned to them. In July 1962, King and Abernathy were convicted of leading the December march, and the SCLC renewed its protests.
The SCLC also organized Operation Breadbasket and the Citizenship Education Program in 1962 to raise the economic status of African Americans by focusing on the job market, literacy programs, voter education and community organizing programs throughout the South.
In June 1963 Hosea Williams of the Chatham County Voters Crusade launched demonstrations to protest segregation in Savannah movie theaters. Thousands of people participated, including male members of the SCLC, but the protests eventually turned violent. The SCLC, wishing to achieve its goals in a non-violent manner, called for their end, and a general integration agreement was won on August 12.
On October 22, 1965, just two months after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, SCLC “voting rights” demonstrators Lincolnton were attacked and beaten. The following year, however, an SCLC voter registration drive was held Hancock Countywhich had one of the highest concentrations of rural African Americans in the state, led to the emancipation of many citizens who, through their votes and courage (and against previously insurmountable barriers), radically changed their own life over the next two decades.
In 1978, the SCLC joined other organizations in an ultimately unsuccessful legal initiative to reclaim the lands of McIntosh County which had been taken from seventy black families for use during World War II. Rather than being returned, the land had become the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. That same year, SCLC’s Lowery, speaking at a rally in Masonprompted the city to initiate racial justice in hiring practices.
In 1980, a Wrightsville SCLC leader, John Martin, was arrested by the sheriff of Johnson County for refusing to leave the sheriff’s office. The arrest sparked protests from black Georgians, and nine weeks of weekly demonstrations amid growing tension followed before a biracial committee was formed to resolve the situation. A civil suit was filed against the sheriff and several others; although initially losing, the SCLC took the case to a federal appeals court and won a partial victory.
Leadership changes and the post-civil rights era
Andrew Young became executive director of the SCLC in 1964. Four years later, he was named executive vice president but resigned in 1970 to run for Congress.
The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, propelled Abernathy to the presidency of the organization. However, Abernathy could not match King’s leadership talents, and schisms within the leadership and fundraising difficulties led to the marked decline of the SCLC’s influence. In 1977, when Abernathy resigned to run for Congress, Lowery succeeded him as president. Lowery avoided financial disaster but led a less visible organization as disenchanted youth and impatient black activists turned to competing civil rights organizations. Although it achieved its initial goals, continued unrest within the SCLC, including declining membership, financial difficulties, and internal political infighting, weakened the organization.
Numerous leadership changes characterized the two decades following Lowery’s presidency. After Lowery retired in 1997, King’s son, Martin Luther King III, led the SCLC until November 2003, when the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth became interim president and CEO. In August 2004, Shuttlesworth was elected president, only to resign from office three months later. The board of directors elected Charles Steele Jr., of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as Shuttlesworth’s successor in November 2004.
Steele served until 2009, when Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., was elected president of the organization. King, however, never came to an agreement with the SCLC board regarding the terms of her presidency, and in January 2011, she announced that she would not accept the position. Howard Creecy then assumed the presidency and served in the role until his death in July 2011. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nephew, Isaac Farris, succeeded Creecy but was replaced in April 2012 by the prominent leader of the civil rights CT Vivian, who was named interim president. . Steele returned to the presidency in July 2012.
Although the SCLC has not forgotten its original goals, its focus has shifted to new causes, including health care, worksite safety, and environmental and prison justice, as well as fair treatment of refugees. In 2003, there were seventeen Georgian chapters and affiliates of the SCLC. The organization publishes its own magazine and continues to work for civil rights.
In May 2012, a collection of materials documenting the history of SCLC from 1968 to 2007 was opened to the public at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library in Emory University.