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Southern Christian Leadership Conference

SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE

As a principal organization of the civil rights movement, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) championed the use of nonviolent direct action to end legal and social discrimination against African Americans. Identified strongly with its original leader, the Reverend martin luther king jr., the SCLC organized and sponsored many protest marches and demonstrations during the late 1950s and the 1960s. Although the group's influence declined after King's assassination in 1968, the SCLC continues to work for the betterment of the lives of African Americans.

The SCLC emerged in the wake of a successful boycott of buses in Montgomery, Alabama, by the city's black citizens in 1955, which had led to a December 1956 Supreme Court ruling upholding the desegregation of those buses (Gayle v. Browder, 352 U.S. 903, 77 S. Ct. 145, 1 L. Ed. 2d 114). Prodded by African American social activist Bayard Rustin, who hoped to carry the Montgomery victory to the rest of the South, King and other clerics formed the Southern Negro Leaders Conference, forerunner of the SCLC, during a meeting in Atlanta in January 1957. King—who had gained national renown through his role as head of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organizer of the bus boycott—was a natural choice to lead the group. Other early SCLC leaders included the Reverends Ralph D. Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth. Later in 1957, the group changed its name to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The SCLC hoped to initiate Gandhian, nonviolent direct action throughout the South. It hoped that such action would secure racial desegregation, voting rights, and other gains for African Americans. Through this approach, the SCLC sought to take the civil rights cause out of the courtroom and into the community, hoping to negotiate directly with whites for social change. As one of its first actions, the group led the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., which drew an estimated twenty-five thousand people. In 1959, it organized a youth march on Washington, D.C., that attracted forty thousand people.

Despite these successful marches, the SCLC was hampered by disorganization during its early years. It experienced difficulty in meeting many of its major goals during the late 1950s, particularly in voter registration. It charted a new course in the early 1960s, when it recruited leaders such as the Reverends Wyatt T. Walker and Andrew J. Young. Between 1960 and 1964, the number of full-time SCLC staff members grew from five to sixty, and the organization's effect on the civil rights movement reached its zenith.

The SCLC's growth allowed it to coordinate historic demonstrations that played a vital role in the civil rights movement. In April 1963, the SCLC led protests and boycotts in Birmingham, Alabama, that prompted violent police repression. Television viewers around the United States were shocked at the violence they saw directed at the clearly peaceful demonstrators. The SCLC won the sympathy of the nation again in a difficult 1965 civil rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, which also drew a violent response from whites. These protests are widely credited with hastening the passage of the civil rights act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.) and the voting rights act of 1965 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1973 et seq.), laws that granted African Americans many of the gains they had been seeking.

By the mid-1960s, other African Americans began to question whether nonviolent direct action could achieve significant changes for their communities. More radical civil rights groups, notably the student nonviolent coordinating committee and the congress of racial equality, publicly renounced the nonviolent approach of the SCLC. They pointed to the poverty and de facto (actual) segregation experienced by African Americans in the northern cities, and argued that the SCLC's tactics were ineffective in the urban ghetto.

King and the SCLC were sensitive to such criticism, and increasingly began to focus their attention on the North. By 1967, the SCLC launched several new operations there: the Chicago Freedom Movement, Operation Bread-basket, and the Poor People's Campaign. It brought in young, new leaders, including a divinity student named jesse jackson, to lead these efforts.

The SCLC suffered a staggering setback when King was assassinated in April 1968. The group had always been closely identified with the charismatic preacher, and his death cost it the vital leadership, publicity, and fund-raising he had provided. Abernathy became president of the organization. By 1972, the staff had declined to twenty and leaders such as Young and Jackson had moved on to other pursuits.

Joseph E. Lowery succeeded Abernathy as president of the SCLC in 1977. The Atlanta-based group has continued to work for the improvement of the lives of African Americans through leadership training and citizen education. It has also created campaigns to battle drug abuse and crime.

further readings

Blumberg, Rhoda Lois. 1991. Civil Rights: The 1960s Freedom Struggle. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne.

Fairclough, Adam. 2001. To Redeem the Soul of America: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King Jr. Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press.

——. 1989. "The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Second Reconstruction, 1957–1973." In We Shall Overcome. Edited by David J. Garrow. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson.

Ford, Linda G. 1992. "Southern Christian Leadership Conference." In Encyclopedia of African-American Civil Rights. Edited by Charles D. Lowery. San Diego: Greenwood Press.

Garrow, David J. 1986. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: Morrow.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Available online at <sclcnational.org> (accessed February 10, 2004).

cross-references

Integration; Jim Crow Laws; NAACP; Parks, Rosa Louise McCauley.

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Southern Christian Leadership Conference

SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE

SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE. Led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was the first major civil rights organization to originate in the South and was one of the guiding forces behind the black freedom struggle in the 1950s and 1960s. The SCLC brought the black church into the forefront of the civil rights movement and helped popularize the tactic of massive nonviolent protest.

The SCLC was founded in early 1957. King and two associates, the Reverend Charles K. Steele and the Reverend Fred L. Shuttles worth, recognized the need to capitalize on the momentum generated by the Montgomery bus boycott of the previous year and called a meeting of black preachers to found the organization. Although the SCLC made little headway in its first few years, in 1960 the spreading sit-in movement among college students energized the organization. The SCLC sponsored the meeting of student protestors that led to the formation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. In 1961, King and the SCLC played a role in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation on interstate buses. In 1963 and 1964, the SCLC joined other civil rights organizations in a major project designed to register rural black Mississippians to vote.

The organization was best known, however, for a series of demonstrations it staged in southern cities in an attempt to combat segregation and disfranchisement by focusing national and international attention on the region's Jim Crow practices. The SCLC's 1963 campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, provoked a violent police reaction that aroused the conscience of many white Americans and put international pressure on President John F. Kennedy to act decisively on civil rights. The bill President Kennedy delivered to Congress that June formed the basis of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1965, King and the SCLC launched a campaign of marches and demonstrations in Selma, Alabama, that eventually contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

After the passage of the Voting Rights Act, King and the SCLC increasingly turned their attention to creating an interracial alliance of the poor and oppressed. They worked to win housing desegregation and jobs for blacks in Chicago, and to organize a Poor People's March in Washington, D.C., in April 1968. The SCLC, however, faced growing opposition from young blacks, who were increasingly frustrated with the organization's willingness to compromise with whites and with its nonviolent tactics. At the same time, King's outspoken opposition to the war in Vietnam infuriated President Johnson and lost the SCLC the support of some wealthy and influential white liberals. After King's assassination in 1968, the organization was wracked by internal division and lost its preeminent place in the black freedom struggle. The SCLC continues to fight for civil rights.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Marable, Manning. Race, Reform and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945–1990. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Sitkoff, Harvard. The Struggle for Black Equality, 1954–1992. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

Williams, Juan. Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954–1965. New York: Viking, 1987.

WendyWall

See alsoCivil Rights Movement ; Jim Crow Laws ; Voting Rights Act of 1965 .

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Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), civil-rights organization founded in 1957 by Martin Luther King, Jr., and headed by him until his assassination in 1968. Composed largely of African-American clergy from the South and an outgrowth of the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that King had led, it advocated nonviolent passive resistance as the means of securing equality for African Americans. It sponsored the massive march on Washington in 1963. Ralph Abernathy headed (1968–77) the SCLC after King's death, but it since has become less prominent. The SCLC continues to sponsor a number of programs, including voter registration and education and the Truth and Justice Campaign.

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"Southern Christian Leadership Conference." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/southern-christian-leadership-conference