The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) is an African-American civil rights organization. SCLC was closely associated with its first president, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The SCLC had a large role in the American Civil Rights Movement.
On January 10, 1957, following the Montgomery Bus Boycott victory and consultations with Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, and others, Dr. King invited about 60 black ministers and leaders to Ebenezer Church in Atlanta. Prior to this, however, Bayard Rustin (in New York City), having conceived the idea of initiating such effort, first sought Rev. C. K. Steele to make the call and take the lead role. C. K. Steele declined, but told him he would be glad to work right beside him if he sought Dr. King in Montgomery, for the role. Their goal was to form an organization to coordinate and support nonviolent direct action as a method of desegregating bus systems across the South. In addition to Rustin and Baker, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham, Rev Joseph Lowery of Mobile, Rev Ralph Abernathy of Montgomery, Rev C.K. Steele of Tallahassee, all played key roles in this meeting.
On February 14, a follow-up meeting was held in New Orleans. Out of these two meetings came a new organization with Dr. King as its president. Initially called the “Negro Leaders Conference on Nonviolent Integration,” then “Southern Negro Leaders Conference,” the group eventually chose “Southern Christian Leadership Conference” (SCLC) as its name, and expanded its focus beyond busses to ending all forms of segregation. A small office was established on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta with Ella Baker as SCLC’s first — and for a long time only — staff member.
SCLC was governed by an elected Board, and established as an organization of affiliates, most of which were either individual churches or community organizations such as the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). This organizational form differed from the NAACP and CORE who recruited individuals and formed them into local chapters.
During its early years, SCLC struggled to gain footholds in black churches and communities across the South. Social activism in favor of racial equality faced fierce repression from police, White Citizens’ Council and the Ku Klux Klan. Only a few churches had the courage to defy the white-dominated status-quo by affiliating with SCLC, and those that did risked economic retaliation against pastors and other church leaders, arson, and bombings.
SCLC’s advocacy of boycotts and other forms of nonviolent protest was controversial among both whites and blacks. Many black community leaders believed that segregation should be challenged in the courts and that direct action excited white resistance, hostility, and violence. Traditionally, leadership in black communities came from the educated elite—ministers, professionals, teachers, etc.—who spoke for and on behalf of the laborers, maids, farm-hands, and working poor who made up the bulk of the black population. Many of these traditional leaders were uneasy at involving ordinary blacks in mass activity such as boycotts and marches.
SCLC’s belief that churches should be involved in political activism against social ills was also deeply controversial. Many ministers and religious leaders—both black and white—thought that the role of the church was to focus on the spiritual needs of the congregation and perform charitable works to aid the needy. To some of them, the social-political activity of Dr. King and SCLC amounted to dangerous radicalism which they strongly opposed.
SCLC and Dr. King were also sometimes criticized for lack of militancy by younger activists in groups such as Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) who were participating in sit-ins and Freedom Rides.
March on Washington
After the Birmingham Campaign, SCLC called for massive protests in Washington DC to push for new civil rights legislation that would outlaw segregation nation-wide. A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin issued similar calls for a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On July 2, 1963, King, Randolph, and Rustin met with James L. Farmer, Jr. of CORE, John Lewis of SNCC, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, and Whitney Young of the Urban League to plan a united march on August 28.
The media and political establishment viewed the march with great fear and trepidation over the possibility that protesters would run riot in the streets of the capital. But despite their fears, the March on Washington was a huge success, with no violence, and an estimated number of participants ranging from 200,000 to 300,000. It was also a logistical triumph — more than 2,000 buses, 21 special trains, 10 chartered aircraft, and uncounted autos converged on the city in the morning and departed without difficulty by nightfall.
The crowning moment of the march was Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in which he articulated the hopes and aspirations of the Civil Rights Movement and rooted it in two cherished gospels — the Old Testament and the unfulfilled promise of the American creed.
To read more on the Southern Christian Leadership Confernce, please visit the Wikipedia site at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Christian_Leadership_Conference