The organization maintains its commitment to justice!
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was established by the late, great, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, Ralph Abernathy, and Fred Shuttlesworth. The organization was extremely powerful and pioneered and modeled the impact of nonviolent resistance across the country. It leveraged the community and influence of the Black church to spread the movement and crafted reframed racism as a moral stain that impacted all people. The work of the SCLC was critical in advancing civil rights, and today, the organization continues the fight for justice with chapters all across the U.S. To learn more about the work of the organization, here’s everything you should know about the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, courtesy of The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University:
It was established in January 1957 to help coordinate protests around the South.
After the success of the Montgomery bus boycott, civil rights leader Bayard Rustin was the first to propose an organization be formed to help coordinate protest efforts. Under the leadership of Dr. King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was born, calling on Black churches and white southerners to recognize the mistreatment of “Negroes [as] a basic spiritual problem” and support the nonviolent efforts of those looking to create change.
“This conference is called because we have no moral choice, before God, but to delve deeper into the struggle – and to do so with greater reliance on non-violence and with greater unity, coordination, sharing and Christian understanding,” Dr. King wrote.
It differed from other civil rights organizations in its operation as an umbrella organization of affiliates.
The SCLC did not seek individual membership like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), but instead relied on affiliate membership, acting as an umbrella organization for other local orgs. The SCLC lent its support to efforts already on the ground, partnering with organizations like the Montgomery Improvement Association and the Nashville Christian Leadership Council. SCLC staff like Andrew Young and Dorothy Cotton would help train local communities in the Christian nonviolence philosophy at the core of the SCLC and conduct leadership training programs and citizenship schools. The primary affiliation was through various church organizations.
One of its first campaigns was centered around registering Black people to vote.
The Crusade for Citizenship was the SCLC’s first major campaign and began in 1957. It was prompted by a civil rights bill pending in Congress, and 115 Black leaders came together during SCLC’s August 1957 conference to spearhead the work for the crusade. The campaign’s goal was to register disenfranchised voters by the masses in time for the 1958 and 1960 elections, focusing on educating voters and raising awareness about the power of voting in the Black community. The crusade was funded by small church donations and large private donors, with organizers setting up small voting clinics around the South to educate voters and get them registered. The work of the SCLC in protest and voter registration laid the foundation for the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By 1962, the SCLC had shifted its focus to the issue of economic inequality, starting planning for the Poor People’s Campaign to promote federal legislation that would guarantee employment, income, and housing for economically marginalized people of all ethnicities. Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, crippled the momentum and success of the Poor People’s Campaign.
The SCLC is still active today and headquartered in Atlanta.
Today, the SCLC remains an active nationwide organization with chapters and affiliates across the country. It maintains its commitment to nonviolent action with a focus on social, economic, and political justice, highlighting issues of social, economic, and political injustice.
4 important things you should know about the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act with SCLC present. Photo Courtesy of White House Photograph Office, 1963-1969.