Over the past decade, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has seen dwindling membership, tax problems, and criticism that the group has become irrelevant.
Of course, it’s not just the SCLC. There have been many civil rights groups that have faded, or even folded, during the past quarter century.
For C.T. Vivian, a civil rights leader and a friend of Martin Luther King Jr., it’s a testament to the success of those groups. “Almost every organization that was part of the movement, is no longer with us. They worked themselves out of a job, in some cases,” Vivian says. But, he notes, some groups have found footing in the new millennium. Vivian says the NAACP continues to be relevant. And, he believes the SCLC could be as well.
“We need to get back to advocacy, fighting every day, operating daily, taking on many different issues,” Vivian told GPB in a phone interview. “We have to become the SCLC that we knew.”
Thursday, the 40 member board of the SCLC will select a new president. Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., is a candidate. So is former Arkansas judge Wendell Griffen. Vivian believes the clear pick to “right the ship” is King.
“If anyone can, she has the best chance of doing it,” Vivian says.
Vivian says King’s dynamic speaking style, and powerful intellect, give her an ability to bring the SCLC’s message to a new generation. “And, the daughter of the founding president also helps greatly,” Vivian says.
King is a minister at a Lithonia Missionary Baptist church, and owns a motivational speaking company. She would be the first woman to lead the SCLC.
Vivian also suggests the SCLC reach out to “become a greater voice for the left out.” That would include advocating for Latinos and other minorities. That, Vivian believes, could open new doors for the organization in the coming years.
Yet, several other prominent black ministers throughout the Southeast are skeptical the SCLC can regain it’s once prominent role. One Tallahassee reverend, who asked not to be named for this web article, told GPB “When an organization has to go looking for a mission, they’re in trouble… The SCLC did a lot for this community [Tallahassee], for the south. They did a lot for the country. But I don’t know if they can answer the question: What are you fighting for?”
Vivian says that’s a legitimate question. And in answering it, he turns the common argument that President Barack Obama’s election ushered in a “post racial era” on its head.
“He [Obama] had to go beyond what is normal. When you consider that a man of such talent and genius had to go on for two years, speaking and fighting for the right to be President, having to convince people a black man could be President…considering he’s running against Mac [Republican John McCain] and a party that just destroyed the Nation’s economy, and you have to fight like that to win an election? He needed all that time, and genius, and ability to win that election as a black man…Any white person with the genius of Obama would have been a runaway…
“In the past, the SCLC worked, like Obama did, to reach the conscience of the country... It takes time. There is still injustice. There is still racism. And as long as the Nation has a conscience, the SCLC has an obligation to try and reach it,” Vivian says.