Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Southern Christian Leadership Conference Crisis

The rich and storied legacy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is threatened by the resignation of Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the late Civil Rights leader and SCLC founder, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

SCLC has had many challenges in its over 50 years of existence.

Organized in the aftermath of King's leadership of the nationally acclaimed success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, SCLC was to become the vehicle and venue for addressing segregation and discrimination through direct, non-violent action. Along the way it has survived clashes with SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) whose focus was on a more egalitarian and grassroots leadership style in the movement; charges of fomenting violence through its marches, boycotts and strident calls for desegregation and equality; rivalry with the older established Civil Rights organizations such as NAACP and Urban League. And then the loss of support and constant criticism when King came out against the Viet Nam war, as his view of his role and ministry outgrew the description of 'Civil Rights' leader to 'Human Rights' leader.

In the 21st century, however, SCLC's greatest struggle as a national organization has not been dissimilar to other civil rights organizations: relevance. SCLC, still headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, has been mired in squabbling, bickering and rivalry almost as soon as Rev. Joseph Lowery, their longest serving president retired. Criticism has been leveled against the organization citing its lack of vision, its unstable leadership, including factions on its board and its seeming incapacity  to adjust to a changing culture in which the issues which face black Americans are no longer desegregation, but unemployment, poverty, healthcare and educational disparities. The fabric of the organization has been eaten away for years, by personality conflicts and the inability to construct an agenda that fires the imagination of its own members, let alone the country.

""We should've closed it down years ago," former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s closest advisers, said Friday after the Rev. Bernice King's announcement. "I saw this as a lost cause a long time ago.""
"The Rev. Joseph Lowery, the SCLC's longest-serving president and 2010 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work during the civil rights movement, said he spoke with Bernice King on Friday."
""She and the board couldn't find common ground, so I think she did the wise thing, rather than enter into a relationship with built-in turbulence," Lowery said, adding that he was saddened by what has happened to the organization."

Sometimes, ideas, organizations run their course. When you have to find a reason for being, you have to stop and admit that. When you can't find a reason for being it is time to stop, period.

Martin Luther King's legacy has transcended the Southern Christian Leadership. Most of the original members of the organization are either dead, dying or old. Their place in American history is assured by their monumental contributions and they will be forever remembered for that. But SCLC's continual wandering in the wilderness is an embarrassment to the generation who can't keep it going.

Instead of inflicting more misery on those who want to see it do better...put the Southern Christian Leadership Conference out of its misery. Just let it go...

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