The very beginnings of the SCLC can be traced back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, whicy began on December 5, 1955 after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a White man on the bus. The boycott lasted for 381 days and ended on December 21, 1956, with the desegregation of the Montgomery bus system. The boycott was carried out by the newly established Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Martin Luther King, Jr. served as president and Ralph David Abernathy served as program director. It was one of history’s most dramatic and massive nonviolent protests, stunning the nation and the world.
The boycott was also a signal to Black America to begin a new phase of the long struggle, a phase that came to be known as the modern civil rights movement. As bus boycotts spread across the South, leaders of the MIA and other protest groups met in Atlanta on January 10 – 11, 1957, to form a regional organization and coordinate protest activities across the South.
Despite a bombing of the home and church of Ralph David Abernathy during the Atlanta meeting, 60 persons from 10 states assembled and announced the founding of the Southern Leadership Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration. They issued a document declaring that civil rights are essential to democracy, that segregation must end, and that all Black people should reject segregation absolutely and nonviolently.
Further organizing was done at a meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 14, 1957. The organization shortened its name to Southern Leadership Conference, established an executive board of directors, and elected officers, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as president, Dr. Ralph David Abernathy as financial secretary-treasurer, Rev. C. K. Steele of Tallahassee, Fla. as vice president, Rev. T. J. Jemison of Baton Rouge, La. as secretary, and Attorney I. M. Augustine of New Orleans, La as general counsel.