The Last Gasp of the SCLC

The struggle for control of the dying civil rights organization has descended into buffoonery.

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Hutchins’ claims date back to late 2009, when the board removed his benefactor, then-chairman Raleigh Trammell, of Dayton, Ohio, and the treasurer, Spiver Gordon, of Eutaw, Ala., over financial irregularities totaling $569,000. Initially, Trammell and Gordon said they would step down until the money matter was resolved. When they had not departed voluntarily by December, the board voted to kick them out. The pair sued for reinstatement. It was then that the criminal probes began. Coincidently, both Trammell and Gordon had prior convictions for fraud. The two men maintain they are still active board members and that Hutchins is SCLC’s real leader, appointed by the Trammell faction.

If you follow Atlanta dramas, you may recall that the King kids appeared to have kissed and made peace among themselves over something much more solid than a man-made organization–money. In a bloodless coup, Dr. King’s children–Bernice, Martin III and Dexter–wrested control of the King Center from their cousin, Isaac Farris Jr. A judge threw up his hands and told them to get out of his courtroom, go home and sort out their differences. Maybe they have. Stay tuned.

I imagine Bernice King would love to be done with the Hutchins matter by the time she officially takes over SCLC; she has remained silent during the present controversy. Former SCLC leaders, loquacious people whose bread and butter long depended on fearless speech and extreme controversy, have also been conspicuously quiet. Where are Andrew Young, Rev. Joseph Lowery and Ralph Abernathy’s widow, Juanita Abernathy? Other SCLC old hands, Rev. Bernard LaFayette and Rev. C.T. Vivian, have spoken out against the internal warfare and the activities of Gordon, Trammell and Hutchins.

The judge in the civil case has set June 2 for a hearing to figure out who’s in charge of the SCLC. No matter how he rules, it may all be for naught. “They will never recover. They’ve lost credibility,” Bob Holmes, professor emeritus at Clark Atlanta University, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Whether the events of the past few months are comedy or tragedy may depend on your perception of the importance of the SCLC at this point in history.

Paul Delaney, a former reporter and editor for the New York Times, is a regular contributor to The Root.

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