Martin Luther King Jr has a story that has been told endlessly. That makes it rather difficult to scale new ground, let alone interesting new ground. Perhaps putting a lens to a less doted upon aspect of Dr. King‘s life might serve the dual purpose of providing interest and insight to readers. One aspect often mentioned, but rarely discussed is the founding of the Southern Christain Leadership Conference (SCLC).
According to blackpast.org, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was created on January 10-11, 1957, when sixty black ministers and civil rights leaders met in Atlanta, Georgia in an effort to replicate the successful strategy and tactics of the recently concluded Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was chosen as the first president of this new group dedicated to abolishing legalized segregation and ending the disfranchisement of black southerners in a non-violent manner.
SCLC.com reports that the boycott was carried out by the newly established Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Martin Luther King Jr. served as President and Ralph David Abernathy served as Program Director. It was one of history’s most dramatic and massive nonviolent protests, stunning the nation and the world. The boycott was also a signal to Black America to begin a new phase of the long struggle, a phase that came to be known as the modern civil rights movement.
As bus boycotts spread across the South, leaders of the MIA and other protest groups met in Atlanta on January 10 – 11, 1957, to form a regional organization and coordinate protest activities across the South. Despite a bombing of the home and church of Ralph David Abernathy during the Atlanta meeting, 60 persons from 10 states assembled and announced the founding of the Southern Leadership Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration.
They issued a document declaring that civil rights are essential to democracy, that segregation must end, and that all Black people should reject segregation absolutely and nonviolently.
Further organizing was done at a meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 14, 1957. The organization shortened its name to Southern Leadership Conference, established an Executive Board of Directors, and elected officers, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as President, Dr. Ralph David Abernathy as Financial Secretary-Treasurer, Rev. C. K. Steele of Tallahassee, Florida as Vice President, Rev. T. J. Jemison of Baton Rouge, Louisiana as Secretary, and Attorney I. M. Augustine of New Orleans, Louisiana as General Counsel.
At its first convention in Montgomery in August 1957, the Southern Leadership Conference adopted the current name, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Basic decisions made by the founders at these early meetings included the adoption of nonviolent mass action as the cornerstone of strategy, the affiliation of local community organizations with SCLC across the South, and a determination to make the SCLC movement open to all, regardless of race, religion, or background.
SCLC is now a nationwide organization made up of chapters and affiliates with programs that affect the lives of all Americans: north, south, east, and west. Its sphere of influence and interests has become international in scope because the human rights movement transcends national boundaries.
The organization operated primarily in the South and some border states, conducting leadership-training programs, citizen-education projects, and voter-registration drives. The SCLC played a major part in the civil rights march on Washington, D.C., in 1963 and in notable antidiscrimination and voter-registration efforts in Albany, Georgia, and Birmingham and Selma, Alabama, in the early 1960s—campaigns that spurred passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
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