The core leadership of the Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference insists that it was not blindsided by today's news that Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter Bernice is turning down the presidency of the organization that her father co-founded back in 1957.
"We have not been leadership-less, and we still are not leadership-less," Dr. Howard Creecy Jr., the national vice president, said during an exclusive interview with The Root at the SCLC's headquarters on downtown Atlanta's historic Auburn Avenue.
"We are still about the people, not one particular person."
After officially informing the SCLC's board members of her decision on Thursday, King released a public statement Friday expressing her personal disappointment over the "turmoil, chaos and confusion" she has seen at the SCLC over the last 15 months.
"After numerous attempts to connect with the official Board leaders on how to move forward under my leadership, unfortunately, our visions did not align. Therefore, after praying mightily and seeking wise counsel, I have decided not to assume the [SCLC] presidency," stated King, who is an elder pastor at Bishop Eddie Long's mega-church in suburban Atlanta.
"As a steward of the King legacy, I must shift my focus to further advancing its growth and perpetuation overall," she continued. "Specifically, I will be devoting my energy towards developing my mother's legacy, Mrs. Coretta Scott King; preparing to work with the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference alongside Reverend Samuel Rodriguez; and laying the groundwork to launch a ministry initiative. I will continue to pray for SCLC's growth and resurrection and wish the organization great success in its mission."
Essentially, the move distances her from all of the legal dustups that have sullied the SCLC's image in recent years. King was elected SCLC president in 2009 but never officially took office. A federal investigation looking into about $500,000 in misplaced funds — directing blame toward a former SCLC chairman and his treasurer — had created deep rifts within the board leadership and caused King to keep her distance.
Until the SCLC initiates and executes a new plan of action in August, when its national members and directors meet, Creecy is interim president.
According to Creecy, chief members of the board had been "in dialogue" with King about plotting a new course for the civil rights group, previously helmed at different stages by King's father and her older brother, Martin Luther King III. Creecy wouldn't specify how King informed the board of her decision, saying instead, "We received correspondence from her similar to what you received in her press release."
With its last thread of connection to the King legacy being severed, the SCLC's future is uncertain. However, the work of the SCLC — "being advocates for the last, the least and the lost," as Creecy put it — will go on, he insisted. "We are not a personality-driven organization. The plight of poor people in America is still our focus."
A. Scott Walton is a reporter based in Atlanta.