The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights group that helped lead the fight against segregation, is beset by financial turmoil and infighting that led to the resignation this week of its president, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.
Shuttlesworth, 82, stepped down Wednesday from the organization he and other black preachers helped found along with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957.
“For years, deceit, mistrust and a lack of spiritual discipline and truth have eaten away at the core of this once-hallowed organization,” he said in his resignation letter.
The resignation came after the SCLC board suspended Shuttlesworth last week for undisclosed reasons. It follows last year’s resignation of the previous president, Martin Luther King III, and a convention over the summer that erupted in shouting matches so fierce that police had to be called to keep the peace.
The world needs SCLC
The SCLC board, holding a leadership retreat Thursday, insisted the organization still has the ability to keep pursue King’s ideals.
“The spirit of Dr. King and others remains today — that can’t go overlooked,” said executive vice president Charles Steele, who is expected to be named the group’s interim president Friday. “We have an obligation to make this organization prevalent and relevant. The world needs SCLC."
The SCLC was once an effective civil rights force that helped put together the 1963 March on Washington and the “Bloody Sunday” march that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Once supported by tens of thousands of members, the SCLC now has fewer than 3,000, Sherri Chance, the former SCLC director of chapters and affiliates, told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Of the 58 chapters, only 10 paid dues to the national organization.
The SCLC owes $43,000 in state and federal taxes, although the Internal Revenue Service has agreed to forgive more than $69,000 in fines and penalties, according to the newspaper.
“It is difficult these days to have focus and have goals and programs that are relevant and appeal to a broad segment of the population the way they used to have,” said Thomas R. Peake, author of “Keeping the Dream Alive: A History of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to the Nineteen Eighties.”
“I’ve always felt they did have a reason to continue to exist, especially now with such a conservative drift in the country. And if they could be wise, they could continue to be a voice for reform.”