Since June 3, warring factions of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference have been in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta, disputing claims of control over the organization.
The dispute began last fall when organization chair Rawley Trammell and treasurer Spiver Gordon were removed after allegedly stealing over $569,000 from the once-influential civil rights group. The FBI, as well as the Alabama state attorney and Fulton County district attorney, are investigating the allegations.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, tensions were sparked when the Rev. Markel Hutchins, a community activist and self-proclaimed interim president of the SCLC, cut the power and padlocked the SCLC’s headquarters on the 300 block of Auburn Ave. in Atlanta.
Hutchins was allegedly ordered by Trammell and Gordon to gain control of the building “by any means necessary,” according to the Journal-Constitution. He allegedly arrived at the building after 9 p.m. on May 17, chained the gate to the front entrance and welded the back door shut, according to news reports. Other SCLC officials said electricity at the Auburn Avenue office was cut and the group’s bank account frozen.
A lawsuit was filed by SCLC National Board of Directors Chair Sylvia Tucker, Treasurer Randall Gaines, and board member the Rev. Bernard LaFayette, who seek legal affirmation that they are in control of the organization. The suit seeks to oust certain allegedly corrupt members of the SCLC as well as maintain and continue business in the Auburn office.
The SCLC, founded in 1957 by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, was a leading force in the civil rights movement and initiated the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. King, along with the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, program director of the SCLC, spearheaded massive sit-ins and non-violent protests which rallied thousands behind the organization.
Current president and CEO of the SCLC, Charles Steele Jr., took office in 2004 with a new direction and outlook for the SCLC. For the past five years he has been working on new initiatives for the organization. “The SCLC is going to survive. It’s nothing new as far as the struggle,” said Steele. “We are going globally and will establish ourselves internationally.”
James Dula, chair of the Maryland SCLC branch, said, “I see the recent events as being very unfortunate because of the fragmentation it has the potential of creating. I’m confident the courts will resolve the matter so the SCLC can become once again the impacting organization it was created to be.”
King’s youngest child, the Rev. Bernice King, is the president-elect of the organization. King, who has so far been silent about the leadership dispute, will be sworn in later this year.