Southern Christian Leadership Conference

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was formed soon after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began on December 5, 1955 in response to the arrest of a black woman named Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on the bus. The boycott was maintained for 381 days, until December 21, 1956, when it ended with the desegregation of the Montgomery bus system. The leaders of the boycott were officers of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA)—its president, Martin Luther King, Jr., and program director, Ralph David Abernathy. When the boycott was over, a new phase had begun in the civil rights movement—the phase of direct struggle to end segregation. Soon bus boycotts spread across the South, and it was important for the leaders of the MIA and other protest groups to meet in January of 1957 to form a regional organization and coordinate protest activities across the South.
Abernathy's home and church were bombed during that meeting, where 60 persons from 10 states assembled and announced the founding of the Southern Leadership Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration. They issued a document declaring that civil rights are essential to democracy, that segregation must end, and that all black people should reject segregation absolutely and nonviolently. The group held a second meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, on February 14, 1957. The organization shortened its name to Southern Leadership Conference, established an executive board of directors, and elected officers, including Martin Luther King as president; Ralph David Abernathy as financial secretary-treasurer; C. K. Steele of Tallahassee, Florida, as vice president; T. J. Jemison of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as secretary; and I. M. Augustine of New Orleans, Louisiana, as general counsel.
At its first convention, in Montgomery in August of 1957, the Southern Leadership Conference adopted the current name, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The basic decisions made by the founders of the organization at this early meeting included the adoption of nonviolent mass action as the cornerstone of strategy, the affiliation of local community organizations with SCLC across the South, and a determination to make the SCLC movement open to all, regardless of race, religion, or background. Now, nearly 50 years later, the SCLC is a nationwide organization made up of chapters and affiliates with programs throughout the nation, and it has become international in its scope and activities.



Further Reading

  • Allen, Zita. (1996). Black Women Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Danbury, CT: Watts. This is an excellent work on the role women played in the civil rights movement, including SCLC, SNCC, and NAACP.
  • Grant, Joanne (Ed.). (1968). Black Protest. New York: Fawcett World Library. This is a documentary history of the movement.
  • King, Coretta Scott. (1993). My Life with Martin Luther King Jr. New York: Henry Holt. This personal memoir adds context to the lives of those actively involved in the struggle.