The last King walks away from SCLC
Bernice turns down presidency
Bernice Albertine King finally ended the long standoff with the organization her father helped found by refusing to become its next president.
Her decision continues to leave rudderless the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which has been beset with quarrels and infighting.
“After numerous attempts to connect with the official board leaders on how to move forward under my leadership, unfortunately, our visions did not align. Therefore, after praying mightily and seeking wise counsel, I have decided not to assume the presidency of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” King said.
“I envisioned SCLC emerging as the vanguard for next-generation nonviolent activism in the tradition of my father. Amidst the turmoil, chaos and confusion surrounding SCLC over the last 15 months, my team and I dedicated an exhaustive amount of time, energy and resources to assess the organization and prepare for my transition,” King added.
King said she will continue to build on her mother’s legacy and other ministry initiatives.
Many are applauding the decision. Andrew Young, former secretary of State and longtime associate of Dr. King, was in agreement with her decision to walk away from the position.
“I tried to get Bernice to see when she wanted to revive it that it wasn’t worth wasting her talents on, that we needed to let it go,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
“It did its work well,” Young said of SCLC’s activities during the civil rights era. “I don’t believe in keeping organizations alive just for the sake of the name.”
The once-illustrious organization had its beginnings with the Montgomery Bus Boycott on Dec. 5, 1955, although under a different name. It would eventually launch at least two heroes into the pantheon of Black history—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. It was Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a White man and move to the rear of the bus that gave rise to the boycott that brought Dr. King to the forefront. The 381-day nonviolent protest proved to be a testament to Black cohesion and its ability to organize against the public humiliation that Blacks had long suffered in the South.
Its impression on the world was immediate and stunning.
Bernice King is clearly the most notable of Dr. King’s children. She was outspoken in her stand against the Persian Gulf War and has made clear her disagreement with homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Like her father, she progressed scholastically. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Spelman College and has dual degrees in law and divinity from Emory University. She is a member of the state bar of Georgia. Her preaching style and mannerism are reminiscent of her father.
King was elected president and CEO of SCLC on Oct. 30, 2009, and would have followed in her father and brother’s (Martin III) footsteps in leading the venerable organization. Dr. King served as president from 1957 to 1968; her brother Martin III served from 1997 to 2004. But Bernice never took office officially.
She told the Atlanta Constitution she was done trying to work out the terms of her leadership with the group’s board, which she saw as attempting to marginalize her.
Had she taken the post she would have been the first female president, but internal bickering between two groups, both claiming to be the official board, kept her from filling the position.
When asked whether he agreed with King’s decision to walk away from the post, the Rev. James Lawson, former pastor of Holman United Methodist Church, who served with Dr. King in SCLC, said:
“In fairness I must say that I have not talked to her about it, so I don’t know the ends and outs of it. My colleagues from the ‘60s wanted her to take it, and I did agree with [those] who supported her for the position.”
Lawson said those same colleagues had also supported Bernice in her court cases involving the organization.
Seeming to lament the state of SCLC and other such organizations, Lawson said: “I think that the Black community right now is pretty vulnerable and that racism with all its concomitant dimensions is more virulent than before. We don’t have the public lynchings, but there are still signs that racism is still alive.”
Lawson mentioned particularly the prison system, which is filled mostly the young and poor who have committed “crimes that they are not putting young White people in prison for.”
“I don’t believe that SCLC and NAACP have filled the need that is precipitated by Black vulnerability,” said Lawson. “I think they are still thinking civil rights rather than economic justice, rather than nonviolence, and rather than changing the structures of the prison system.”
“The cause of Black emancipation has less support today than ever before, and I think in the midst of this we need to find some way to create structures that will allow us to put our agenda on public tables,” said Lawson. “The Black agenda is the only agenda in at least 100 years that affirms all the people of this nation, so I think the nation suffers without our agenda.”
African Americans have been the most rapidly advancing oppressed people in the history of the world, according to some major historians. To come from brutal and hard slavery, with virtually no legal basic human rights, to rise to lawmakers, local leaders and ultimately the presidency of the United States of America within a 400-year span is a feat surpassed by few, if any other people.
The belief that President Obama’s election heralded immediate change was so strong that shortly after his win, the blog Debate Link featured a Nov. 7, 2008, column entitled. “Do We Still Need Civil Rights After Obama?”
It is a penetrating question.
The Martin Luther King holiday is 25 years old this month. Not bad for a true product of American democracy at its ugliest and its best.
Remembering the loud, raucous, and sometimes racially vicious political war fought to get the holiday established, one is doubly honored to watch one of Dr. King’s movement progeny work his POTUS magic through a relentlessly dangerous minefield of negativity.
Ella Baker, born Dec. 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Va., was a prominent, behind-the-scenes figure in the Civil Rights Movement. Known most for her work alongside more famous leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King Jr., Baker inspired, mentored, and groomed some of the most up-front civil rights leaders and liberationists of the 20th century.
Her journey to leadership began as a child, when she listened to the stories her formerly-enslaved grandmother told her about slave revolts and the need to fight for justice.
Statement by: Ms. Alice Huffman, president National Association for the Advancement of Color People California State Conference
We are here today to share with the public a report prepared and released by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, which details various associations between Tea Party organizations and acknowledged hate groups in the United States.