Rev. Dr. Howard W. Creecy, the new president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) who just last month outlined his vision to revive the historic civil rights organization, has died of an apparent heart attack. He was 57.

Isaac Newton Farris Jr., the 48-year-old nephew of SCLC founder Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has been named interim president of SCLC. Farris, who was serving as national vice president of the organization, praised Creecy for his visionary leadership and said his aim is to continue growing the organization from the blue print set forth by Creecy.

“He had laid out a course. He had a vision that he obviously had shared with us all; a vision that we all were buying into, and he had put some meat on those bones,” Farris said in an interview with the Trice Edney News Wire the day after the death announcement.

The SCLC family as well as his immediate family are shocked, Farris said. “Emotionally, we are rattled. But, institutionally, we are not rattled at all because although he is not here to implement, he did provide a blue print.”

Creecy, a third generation preacher at The Olivet Church in Fayetteville, a civil-rights activist and father of two, died at approximately 12:30 a.m. in his home, said a press release. The cause of his death was initially undetermined, but family members suspected a heart attack and an autopsy was commissioned.

“We thank the community for the outpouring of compassion and condolences during this difficult time,” his wife Yolanda Grier Creecy and his family said in a statement.

The funeral is set for 11 a.m. on Saturday at Jackson Memorial Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Farris credited Creecy for saving the organization, which has been beleaguered with controversy and mired in court battles the past two years. Creecy took the helm of the 54-year-old civil rights organization in late January, after the Rev. Bernice King decided to bow out. She had been elected president the previous year, but her presidency never took effect amid court battles and rancor between board members.

“Howard saved the organization, quite frankly. Had he not done what he did when he did it, we might not be having this conversation,” Farris said.

In an extensive interview in late May, Creecy told the Trice Edney News Wire that his vision was to move African Americans from a place of simple empowerment to equity. Among the plans he had already begun to put in place was an infusion of youth by setting up SCLC chapters on college campuses and in high schools.

His eyes on the 2012 presidential election, Creecy said the non-partisan SCLC would adamantly push for voter education, registration and get out to vote along with a coalition of other Black civic organizations.

If Obama wins a second term, Black leaders would need to urge him to do more for Black progress “by continuing to encourage him; dialoguing with him by speaking truth to power, and creating the updraft to be the wind beneath his wings that lets him soar to the place of our expectation. But it cannot be done without our participation.”

Farris, the son of Dr. King’s sister, Dr. Christine King Farris, was president and CEO of the MLK Center in Atlanta until last year.

“I’ve had a pretty balanced and exposed background,” Farris said. “Howard was like a big brother to me. Our families are close. I grew up knowing Howard. We played together.”

Farris said he had the advantage of gleaning from Creecy for a lifetime. “One thing that I took from Howard, which I think is important for this organization, is his love for people; his genuine love for people. I guess that’s what made his ministry thrive as well.”

Farris was clear that he did not know whether he would take the long-term presidency after his interim term or whether it would even be offered. “I have not really had that formal discussion with the board; so, I would just feel kind of awkward getting ahead and answering that at this point.”

Creecy was the son of the late civil rights icon Rev. Howard Creecy Sr. also an SCLC stalwart.

Farris concluded: “Howard has been a prophetic leader who deeply inspired me along with countless others across this great nation and world. From his inspired leadership, which revitalized the SCLC, we will work to continue on the path that he and leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. laid before us.”