Founded by African-American ministers in Atlanta in 1957 following the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott, the SCLC under Martin Luther King Jr. advocated nonviolent protest as it worked to bring equality to blacks, particularly in the South. The group played a major role in the March on Washington, as well as civil rights campaigns in Birmingham and Selma, Ala. The group's efforts helped lead to the end of segregation and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The SCLC also spoke out against poverty, racism and war.
"It did its work well," Young said. "But it was never any law that said we all had to stay together for the rest of our lives. I don't believe in keeping organizations alive just for the sake of the name."
SCLC Chairwoman Sylvia Tucker said she was stunned by King's decision.
"We have to continue to move forward, because there's such a need out there," Tucker said. "Having a president doesn't determine what our mission is, to really take care of the least of these."
Tucker said she was not sure when a new president might be elected.
As its president from 1957 until his assassination in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was the face of the SCLC for the major battles of the civil rights era. He was succeeded by the late Rev. Ralph Abernathy, who served from 1968 until 1977, and then Lowery from 1977 until 1997. Lowery then turned the organization over to Martin Luther King III, who headed it from 1998 to 2003.
"It has so many problems," said Lowery, the president emeritus of SCLC. "Fighting without, fighting within ... Unless they find a grip on reality soon, I think outside forces will determine their fate and the organization won't have to do anything about it at all."
At a press conference after her election, Bernice King said she was eager to rejuvenate the group.
But the news weeks later that the SCLC was looking into allegations that its chairman and treasurer had mismanaged funds threw 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 led a prayer for unity within the group in August, calling for an end to the 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.
The Rev. Markel Hutchins, who at one time claimed the presidency of the SCLC during the period of infighting, said Friday that the ongoing strife among the group has been about "the soul, future and integrity of the SCLC."
"We will fight like hell to reclaim the organization that has, at this moment, been stolen by those who have not been longtime participants in the struggle for human dignity," Hutchins said.
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