Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Also found in: Dictionary, Acronyms, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference

As a principal organization of the Civil Rights Movement, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) championed the use of nonviolent direct action to end legal and social discrimination against African Americans. Identified strongly with its original leader, the Reverend martin luther king jr., the SCLC organized and sponsored many protest marches and demonstrations during the late 1950s and the 1960s. Although the group's influence declined after King's assassination in 1968, the SCLC continues to work for the betterment of the lives of African Americans.

The SCLC emerged in the wake of a successful boycott of buses in Montgomery, Alabama, by the city's black citizens in 1955, which had led to a December 1956 Supreme Court ruling upholding the desegregation of those buses (Gayle v. Browder, 352 U.S. 903, 77 S. Ct. 145, 1 L. Ed. 2d 114). Prodded by African American social activist Bayard Rustin, who hoped to carry the Montgomery victory to the rest of the South, King and other clerics formed the Southern Negro Leaders Conference, forerunner of the SCLC, during a meeting in Atlanta in January 1957. King—who had gained national renown through his role as head of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organizer of the bus boycott—was a natural choice to lead the group. Other early SCLC leaders included the Reverends Ralph D. Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth. Later in 1957, the group changed its name to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The SCLC hoped to initiate Gandhian, nonviolent direct action throughout the South. It hoped that such action would secure racial desegregation, voting rights, and other gains for African Americans. Through this approach, the SCLC sought to take the Civil Rights cause out of the courtroom and into the community, hoping to negotiate directly with whites for social change. As one of its first actions, the group led the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., which drew an estimated twenty-five thousand people. In 1959, it organized a youth march on Washington, D.C., that attracted forty thousand people.

Despite these successful marches, the SCLC was hampered by disorganization during its early years. It experienced difficulty in meeting many of its major goals during the late 1950s, particularly in voter registration. It charted a new course in the early 1960s, when it recruited leaders such as the Reverends Wyatt T. Walker and Andrew J. Young. Between 1960 and 1964, the number of full-time SCLC staff members grew from five to sixty, and the organization's effect on the civil rights movement reached its zenith.

The SCLC's growth allowed it to coordinate historic demonstrations that played a vital role in the civil rights movement. In April 1963, the SCLC led protests and boycotts in Birmingham, Alabama, that prompted violent police repression. Television viewers around the United States were shocked at the violence they saw directed at the clearly peaceful demonstrators. The SCLC won the sympathy of the nation again in a difficult 1965 civil rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, which also drew a violent response from whites. These protests are widely credited with hastening the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1973 et seq.), laws that granted African Americans many of the gains they had been seeking.

By the mid-1960s, other African Americans began to question whether nonviolent direct action could achieve significant changes for their communities. More radical civil rights groups, notably the student nonviolent coordinating committee and the congress of racial equality, publicly renounced the nonviolent approach of the SCLC. They pointed to the poverty and de facto (actual) Segregation experienced by African Americans in the northern cities, and argued that the SCLC's tactics were ineffective in the urban ghetto.

King and the SCLC were sensitive to such criticism, and increasingly began to focus their attention on the North. By 1967, the SCLC launched several new operations there: the Chicago Freedom Movement, Operation Bread-basket, and the Poor People's Campaign. It brought in young, new leaders, including a divinity student named jesse jackson, to lead these efforts.

The SCLC suffered a staggering setback when King was assassinated in April 1968. The group had always been closely identified with the charismatic preacher, and his death cost it the vital leadership, publicity, and fund-raising he had provided. Abernathy became president of the organization. By 1972, the staff had declined to twenty and leaders such as Young and Jackson had moved on to other pursuits.

Joseph E. Lowery succeeded Abernathy as president of the SCLC in 1977. The Atlanta-based group has continued to work for the improvement of the lives of African Americans through leadership training and citizen education. It has also created campaigns to battle drug abuse and crime.

Further readings

Blumberg, Rhoda Lois. 1991. Civil Rights: The 1960s Freedom Struggle. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne.

Fairclough, Adam. 2001. To Redeem the Soul of America: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King Jr. Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press.

——. 1989. "The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Second Reconstruction, 1957–1973." In We Shall Overcome. Edited by David J. Garrow. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson.

Ford, Linda G. 1992. "Southern Christian Leadership Conference." In Encyclopedia of African-American Civil Rights. Edited by Charles D. Lowery. San Diego: Greenwood Press.

Garrow, David J. 1986. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: Morrow.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Available online at <> (accessed February 10, 2004).


Integration; Jim Crow Laws; NAACP; Parks, Rosa Louise McCauley.

References in periodicals archive ?
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference has honored the firm for supporting national civil rights and humanitarian endeavors through its hiring and employment practices.
Dorothy Cotton, who served as director of the Citizenship Education Program for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, reminded conference participants that civil rights activists were far from revered during the height of the struggle for freedom.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in its own letter to the commission, requested the delay until its July meeting with the Community Coalition, various block clubs, the clergy and other community-based organizations.
After the state of Alabama outlawed the NAACP in May 1956, he became the founder and president of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), one of the original officers of King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); and by 1963, he became, in King's words, "one of the nation's most courageous freedom fighters.
In addition to Mayor Clancy, Secretary Cuomo was joined at the news conference by NLC Executive Director Donald Borut, Martin Luther King III, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, National Association of Counties President C.
The majority of the workers who skin, gut, cut, and process catfish are African-Americans who are not paid a wage that reflects the profits made from the industry," says the Reverend Ronald Myers, head of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and chaplain for the Catfish Workers of America.
Martin Luther King, Rustin helped organize the Montgomery bus boycott of the 1950s, suggested to King the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and was the principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington showcasing King's "I Have A Dream" speech.
Harris believed in the power of voter registration, and he opposed the demonstrations and boycotts brought to town by the young organizers of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Bernice King, President-elect of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Among the supporters are: the Congressional Black Caucus, the NFL Players Association, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations, the National Action Network and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Organization: Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles
Lowery, convener of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda and president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, hopes Parks' influence lasts for years to come.

Full browser ?