ATLANTA — The Rev. Bernice King said Friday she will not assume the presidency of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights group co-founded by her father more than 50 years ago.
King, the daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was elected in October 2009 to lead the organization and was to be the first woman to hold the post. But soon after, the SCLC's chairman and treasurer were accused of financial mismanagement, and bitter infighting among the group's leaders landed the split factions in a courtroom.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, King said she was excited about leading the SCLC and had looked forward to taking the helm of the organization. But in the end, she and the group's leadership didn't see eye to eye about how to move forward.
"In light of that, and attempts on several occasions to try to reach out and dialogue, this is where I've landed," she said. "Essentially, I knew that I was not going to be merely a figurehead, so I had to make a critical decision. I look forward to continuing the legacies of my parents and establishing my own legacy."
Her decision now leaves the organization facing an uncertain future without a leader, but King stopped short of saying the SCLC should disband.
"I think that's a decision that has to be made by those within the organization," she said. "They have chapters around the nation who hold the name SCLC and they are doing different kinds of work in their communities. They have an opportunity ... to decide and redefine how they want to be projected in the public. I think what has happened with the SCLC is unfortunate, and I continue to pray for their resurrection and growth."
King said she notified board leaders of her decision on Thursday with a letter delivered by courier to the organization's Atlanta headquarters and by e-mail.
Her brother, Martin Luther King III, led the group from 1998 to 2003. At a press conference after her election, Bernice King said she was eager to reinvigorate the group with younger members and would make youth and women a priority.
But within weeks of her election, the SCLC was looking into allegations that its chairman and treasurer had mismanaged the organization's funds, throwing its board of directors into chaos as members chose sides. By the spring, the dispute over who controlled the SCLC was headed to court. The group had split into two factions, both claiming to be in charge and making decisions on behalf of the entire organization.
Bernice King remained largely silent amid the infighting and chaos. She led a prayer for unity within the group in August, calling for an end to the bickering and hard feelings. In September, a judge ruled that the directors siding with King were the group's legitimate leaders.
The former chairman, the Rev. Raleigh Trammell — the subject of the federal and internal probe — was indicted last week on charges including grand theft involving a meal program for low-income seniors in southwest Ohio.