Southern Christian Leadership

Southern Christian Leadership

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In 1957 Martin Luther King joined with Ralph David Abernathy, Fred Shutterworth, and Bayard Rustin to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Based in Atlanta, Georgia, the main objective of the SCLC was to coordinate and assist local organizations working for the full equality of African Americans. King was elected president and Abernathy secretary-treasurer. The new organisation was committed to using nonviolence in the struggle for civil rights, and SCLC adopted the motto: "Not one hair of one head of one person should be harmed."

In 1963 the SCLC played an important role in the campaigns against lunch counter segregation and voter registration drives. The following year it joined with the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) to organize the the famous March on Washington. On 28th August, 1963, more than 200,000 people marched peacefully to the Lincoln Memorial to demand equal justice for all citizens under the law. At the end of the march Martin Luther King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

After King's assassination in 1968, Ralph David Abernathy became the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He held this post until his retirement in 1977.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference

The success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott inspired the formation of the umbrella group - The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Its main aim was to assist local groups in their nonviolent struggle for civil rights. On 14 February 1957, Martin Luther King was elected as president of the organisation.

The SCLC was a Christian organisation so it derived its tactics from Christian teachings. As such, its principles were as follows:

The SCLC was unique in that, as an umbrella organisation, it brought together different civil rights organisations. Rather than offer individual membership, it assisted other organisations in local protests.

We March With Selma

The organisation was called the ‘Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Non-violent Integration’ at first, but it soon changed its name to ‘Southern Christian Leadership Conference’ to emphasise its Christian roots.

SCLC called for three basic ‘wants’:

  1. That White Americans become involved in the Civil Rights Movement. They recognised that not all white Southerners were racist.
  2. African Americans were told they must always seek justice
  3. SCLC members had to adopt non-violent protest

The organisers of the SCLC decided to expand the objectives and the reach of the organisation. Leaders such a Bayard Rustin argued that local organisation was key to creating effective protest. So the SCLC aimed to coordinate, advice and develop the work done by numerous civil rights groups. It also wanted to offer workshops teaching the basics of nonviolent protest. However, the absence of direct action protest for civil rights in the South made it difficult for the SCLC to reach its full potential.

Thus, the SCLC threw themselves at assisting black Americans to register to vote. In 1958 Ella Baker helped launch the “Crusade for Citizenship”. This voter registration drive was aimed at registering two million blacks before the 1960 election. The campaign proved to be overambitious and highlighted the need for the SCLC to work with other organisations.

In 1961 the SNCC called on the SCLC and Martin Luther King to join the Albany Movement. The campaign had a major obstacle to deal with in the form of Albany Police Chief Laurie Pritchett, who had mastered the art of appearing nonviolent. The police chief preached about his use of nonviolence with a focus on mass arrests instead of mass beatings. This meant that the protest did not have the same media attention as others.

International outrage came later, in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. The city authorities’ violent response to the demonstrations - including that of the notorious leader, Bull Connor - gained wide media coverage. Many people were shocked by the use of high pressure fire hoses and dogs to attack non-violent protesters.

A veteran of the demonstrations said: "the news media did not make the Birmingham movement powerful it was the power of the movement that forced the press to cover it."

The SCLC also helped organise the 1963 ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’. This saw 250,000 protesters march into Washington DC on 28 August 1963.

In 1965, SCLC launched a voter registration drive and campaigned for the Voting Rights Act, which was passed in the same year. This came seven months after King launched a SCLC campaign in Selma, with the objective of pressuring Congress into action over voting rights.

This 50-mile march from Selma to Montgomery was organised by both the SNCC and the SCLC. It was not long before state troopers started attacking the marchers, which encouraged even more protesters to join the march.

After the march, SCLC focused on the poverty found in inner city ghettos with a high proportion of black inhabitants. SCLC blamed poverty for the increase in inner-city violence. With little access to good jobs, many of those who lived in the ghettos were forced to turn to crime to put food on their table. SCLC thought that the solution to this poverty was to create jobs to enable black people to climb out of poverty.

The SCLC wanted to improved housing, jobs, and better pay to improve the lives of those living in the ghettos.

The SCLC experienced a major blow when Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968. To many, King came to define the SCLC thanks to his global recognition and tireless work. His successor, Ralph Abernathy, was a well-respected figure in the civil rights cause, but he could never have the same status as King.

The Link Between the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the SCLC

The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted from Dec. 5, 1955, to Dec. 21, 1956, and began when Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a White man. Jim Crow, the system of racial segregation in the American South, dictated that African Americans not only had to sit in the back of the bus but also stand when all seats filled up. For defying this rule, Parks was arrested. In response, the African American community in Montgomery fought to end Jim Crow on city buses by refusing to patronize them until the policy changed. A year later, it did. Montgomery buses were desegregated. The organizers, part of a group called the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), declared victory. The boycott leaders, including a young Martin Luther King, who served as MIA’s president, went on to form the SCLC.

The bus boycott triggered similar protests across the South, so King and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, who served as MIA’s program director, met with civil rights activists from all over the region from January 10-11, 1957, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. They joined forces to launch a regional activist group and plan demonstrations in several Southern states to build on the momentum from Montgomery’s success. African Americans, many of whom had previously believed that segregation could only be eradicated through the judicial system, had witnessed firsthand that public protest could lead to social change, and civil rights leaders had many more barriers to strike down in the Jim Crow South. Their activism wasn’t without consequences, however. Abernathy’s home and church were firebombed and the group received countless written and verbal threats, but that didn’t stop them from founding the Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration. They were on a mission.

According to the SCLC website, when the group was founded, the leaders “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.”

The Atlanta meeting was only the beginning. On Valentine’s Day 1957, civil rights activists assembled once more in New Orleans. There, they elected executive officers, naming King president, Abernathy treasurer, the Rev. C. K. Steele vice president, the Rev. T. J. Jemison secretary, and I. M. Augustine general counsel.

By August of 1957, the leaders cut their group’s rather cumbersome name to its current one — the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They decided they could best execute their platform of strategic mass nonviolence by partnering with local community groups throughout the Southern states. At the convention, the group also decided that its members would include individuals of all racial and religious backgrounds, even though most participants were African American and Christian.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)

With the goal of redeeming “the soul of America” through nonviolent resistance, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was established in 1957 to coordinate the action of local protest groups throughout the South (King, “Beyond Vietnam,” 144). Under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., the organization drew on the power and independence of black churches to support its activities. “This conference is called,” King wrote, with fellow ministers C. K. Steele and Fred Shuttlesworth in January 1957, “because we have no moral choice, before God, but to delve deeper into the struggle—and to do so with greater reliance on non-violence and with greater unity, coordination, sharing and Christian understanding” (Papers 4:95).

The catalyst for the formation of SCLC was the Montgomery bus boycott. Following the success of the boycott in 1956, Bayard Rustin wrote a series of working papers to address the possibility of expanding the efforts in Montgomery to other cities throughout the South. In these papers, he asked whether an organization was needed to coordinate these activities. After much discussion with his advisors, King invited southern black ministers to the Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration (later renamed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The ministers who attended released a manifesto in which they called upon white southerners to “realize that the treatment of Negroes is a basic spiritual problem.… Far too many have silently stood by” (Papers 4:105). In addition, they encouraged black Americans “to seek justice and reject all injustice” and to dedicate themselves to the principle of nonviolence “no matter how great the provocation” (Papers 4:104 105).

SCLC differed from organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in that it operated as an umbrella organization of affiliates. Rather than seek individual members, it coordinated with the activities of local organizations like the Montgomery Improvement Association and the Nashville Christian Leadership Council. “The life-blood of SCLC movements,” as described in one of its pamphlets, “is in the masses of people who are involved—members of SCLC and its local Affiliates and Chapters” (SCLC, 1971). To that end, SCLC staff such as Andrew Young and Dorothy Cotton trained local communities in the philosophy of Christian nonviolence by conducting leadership training programs and opening citizenship schools. Through its affiliation with churches and its advocacy of nonviolence, SCLC sought to frame the struggle for civil rights in moral terms.

SCLC’s first major campaign, the Crusade for Citizenship, began in late 1957, sparked by the civil rights bill then pending in Congress. The idea for the crusade was developed at SCLC’s August 1957 conference, where 115 African American leaders laid the groundwork for the crusade. The campaign’s objective was to register thousands of disenfranchised voters in time for the 1958 and 1960 elections, with an emphasis on educating prospective voters. The crusade sought to establish voter education clinics throughout the South, raise awareness among African Americans that “their chances for improvement rest on their ability to vote,” and stir the nation’s conscience to change the current conditions (SCLC, 9 August 1957). Funded by small donations from churches and large sums from private donors, the crusade continued through the early 1960s.

SCLC also joined local movements to coordinate mass protest campaigns and voter registration drives all over the South, most notably in Albany, Georgia, Birmingham and Selma, Alabama, and St. Augustine, Florida. The organization also played a major role in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The visibility that SCLC brought to the civil rights struggle laid the groundwork for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By the latter half of the decade, tensions were growing between SCLC and more militant protest groups such as SNCC and the Congress of Racial Equality. Amid calls for “Black Power,” King and SCLC were often criticized for being too moderate and overly dependent on the support of white liberals.

As early as 1962 SCLC began to broaden its focus to include issues of economic inequality. Seeing poverty as the root of social inequality, in 1962 SCLC began Operation Breadbasket in Atlanta to create new jobs in the black community. In 1966 the program spread to Chicago as part of the Chicago Campaign. A year later planning began for a Poor People’s Campaign to bring thousands of poor people to Washington, D.C., to push for federal legislation that would guarantee employment, income, and housing for economically marginalized people of all ethnicities. The assassination of King on 4 April 1968 crippled SCLC’s momentum and undermined the success of the Poor People’s Campaign. The organization, which had often been overshadowed by its leader’s prominence, resumed plans for the Washington demonstration as a tribute to King. Under the leadership of SCLC’s new president, Ralph Abernathy, 3,000 people camped in Washington from 13 May to 24 June 1968.

Headquartered in Atlanta, SCLC is now a nationwide organization with chapters and affiliates located throughout the United States. It continues its commitment to nonviolent action to achieve social, economic, and political justice and is focused on issues such as racial profiling, police brutality, hate crimes, and discrimination.

This Day in Black History: Feb. 14, 1957

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was established at a meeting in New Orleans on Feb. 14, 1957, after the end of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Martin Luther King Jr. served as president of the civil rights organization, initially called the Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration, until his death in 1968.

SCLC's first major campaign centered on voting rights. Titled the Crusade for Citizenship, the goal was to register thousands of disenfranchised voters throughout the South so they could cast ballots in upcoming elections in 1958 and 1960. Through voter education clinics, it raised awareness among African-Americans about the importance of the vote. SCLC is credited with helping to lay the groundwork for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In the early '60s, the organization added economic inequality to its agenda and created a program called Operation Breadbasket, which urged Blacks to not patronize businesses that wouldn't hire or serve them. It also developed the Poor People's Campaign, which aimed to bring thousands of people to Washington, D.C., to push lawmakers to create legislation that would guarantee employment and housing for poor people of all races.

Following King's assassination in 1968, the protest demonstration, which had been postponed, was held in his honor. Led by new president Ralph Abernathy, 3,000 people camped out in Washington for nearly three months.

Today, the Atlanta-based organization has chapters and affiliates nationwide that focus on social, economic and political justice.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)

Clayborne Carson et al., eds., The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader (New York: Penguin, 1991).

Jack E. Davis, The Civil Rights Movement (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2001).

Adam Fairclough, To Redeem the Soul of America: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King Jr. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987).

David J. Garrow and Jeff Riggenbach, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Ashland, Ore.: Blackstone Audiobooks, 1998).

Donald L. Grant, The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia (reprint, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001).

Thomas R. Peake, Keeping the Dream Alive: A History of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from King to the Nineteen-Eighties (New York: Peter Lang, 1987).

David S. Williams, From Mounds to Megachurches: Georgia's Religious Heritage (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008).

Southern Christian Leadership - History

On January 10, 1957, a group of black ministers and activists gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA to discuss the founding of a new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), that would increase pressure on our nation’s leaders to address the unequal and the horrific treatment of black Americans. This group of courageous individuals, which included Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, C.K. Steele, Fred Shuttlesworth, and Joseph Lowery would be labeled “radicals” because of their use of direct, non-violent action that challenged the nation’s social and economic systems.

American Radicals tells the story of the SCLC, which has become one of the country’s most significant civil rights organizations. The work of SCLC and its members forever changed America’s civil rights movement, presented new strategies for advocating social change, and helped to define the country and world in which we live today.

SCLC Crusade for the Vote: To Double the Negro Vote in the South [Southern Christian Leadership Conference brochure]

Brochure distributed by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which describes and promotes the "Crusade for the Ballot. To Double the Negro Vote in the South." The campaign aimed to double the number of registered Black voters in the South and to educate and stimulate these citizens to exercise the vote.

Page 3 of the brochure states that this goal will be achieved by educating and stimulating Black citizens to vote. Organizing communities, bipartisanship, and non-violence.

SCLC leadership at this time included Martin Luther King, Jr. President, Wyatt Tee Walker, Executive Director, and Atty. I. M. Augustine, General Counsel.

The pamphlet is from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Religious Freedom and Public Affairs Project, and is part of a resource file on discrimination in voting. It discusses voter suppression tactics and lists ways to counter them and increase voter registration and participation.

p. 2
(1) Over 5 million Negros of voting age live in the South.
(2) Only 25% of adult Negroes vote compared with 60% white adults.
(3) Purges of voter lists, "slowdowns" by registrars, opening the registration office only one of two days a month and at hours that are not helpful for working people and
(4) Open intimidation by some plantation bosses and many local officials, all play a part in discouraging the Negro Citizen from becoming a registered voter.

As a result, "Government by consent of the governed," upon which our nation was founded in 1776, is a goal still to be made a reality in most of the South today.

Most of the present crop of Southern Senators and Congressmen will oppose and fillibuster all legislation designed to protect the voting rights of citizens of this region.

Despite these obstacles Negro citizens are struggling daily to double the number of voters and to obtain representation in government.
Even the most die-hard segregationist in public office can be made to respect voting power. Furthermore, we know there are many liberal white citizens in the South who count on the Negro votes to increase enough for liberal voice to be heard in the government.
The whole nation will benefit from an enlarged Negro vote in the South. This area of our country CAN elect men and women of good will and a sense of justice to Congress and to local state legislatures.
Let all who believe in Freedom and Human Dignity join in this great Crusade for The Ballot Now!!

p. 3 In Unity There Is Strength. No narrow partisan interest must be allowed to divide us. In reaching a cross section of the Negro community, the Crusade will move across party lines. It is for the good of the local community that all civic, church, fraternal and other organizations

p. 4
"The goal of the Freedom Movement in the South can be summed up in 3 words: All, Here, and Now
We want all of our rights as citizens (not just some rights)
We want them here, in the Deep South, and
We want them now"
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

When you have finished reading this, please pass it on to a member of the family, a neighbor or a friend.

Full transcript and other related items via University of Minnesota Libraries, Social Welfare History Archives.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was founded by a group of sixty black activists at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia in 1957. The initial purpose was to expand on the success of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-6 with campaigns throughout the country. The SCLC was founded with Martin Luther King Jr. as its leader, and with the organizational assistance of Stanley Levison, a Jewish lawyer from New York, Bayard Rustin, Executive Director of the War Resister’s League, and Ella Baker, formerly of the NAACP.

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, SCLC led protest movement of varying efficacy throughout the South. In 1960, the organization helped to coordinate the burgeoning sit-in movement throughout the country. In 1961 and 1962, the organization led a movement in Albany, Georgia with limited success. However, the Birmingham, Alabama movement of 1963 established the organization, and especially King, as effective non-violent activists. Shortly thereafter, SCLC participated in the successful March on Washington, attended by about 250,000 people. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech remains one of the most popular speeches in American history.

The organization moved its forces to Selma, Alabama in 1965, where the brutality of local police led to nationwide outrage and support for voting rights legislation. After a string of successes, the SCLC launched its People to People tour in an effort to begin confronting the problems of black residents in Northern cities. After this tour, SCLC decided to launch its first major Northern effort in Chicago. Before arriving, SCLC formed important alliances with local groups, most importantly the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, in order to effectively coordinate local and national movements. Still, there were turf battles between SCLC activists and those who had been working in Chicago for longer periods of time.

The SCLC program in Chicago was experimental, as a Northern civil rights movement of this scale had never before been attempted. The problems of Northern cities were as threatening as those in the South, and at the organization’s Fall 1964 meeting, a commitment to broadening its work was made. The tactics that the SCLC had found effective in the South were not always as effective at attacking de facto segregation. For one, the cooperation of police at protests did not make non-violent action as effective as they had been in Southern campaigns. Also, the size of Northern cities, and especially Chicago, was much larger than any location where SCLC had attempted action before.

The Chicago Freedom Movement was a pivotal campaign for SCLC. The organization was turning more fully toward addressing issues of economic justice. SCLC launched the Poor People’s Campaign in late 1968, but it was unable to recover from the assassination of King. While the organization still exists today, it has yet to recover the power it had in the 1950s and 1960s.

Further Reading
“Bearing the Cross” by David Garrow

Southern Christian Leadership - History

Posts tagged Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Today we are educating about the rise of modern voter suppression. Our focus will be on the United State's Supreme Court's 2013 decision of Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 2 (2013), which ruled Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) unconstitutional.

Today we honor the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the landmark legislation that outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting. This 'act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution' was signed into law 95 years after the amendment was ratified.

Today we honor Amelia Platts Boynton Robinson, a voting rights activist in the 1930s and a friend of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and other civil rights leaders in the 1950s and 1960s.

Today we honor Fannie Lou Hamer, who was a seminal figure in the fight for African American voting rights and political power in the 1960's.

Today we honor the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer project, an organized a voter registration drive aimed at dramatically increasing voter registration in Mississippi.

Happy President’s Day! Today we honor the Children’s Crusade, which was the successful effort to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama.

Today, we honor Ella Baker, one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

Today, we honor Mary McLeod Bethune, who was one of the 20th century’s most powerful and celebrated advocates for civil rights and suffrage.

Today, we honor the First National Conference of the Colored Women of America held in August 1895 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Watch the video: Southern Christian Leadership Conference