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132 F. Carl Walton 132 The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was founded in 1957 in Atlanta, Georgia. Like other civil rights groups, the SCLC was established to improve the political and social conditions of Black Americans. The SCLC is characterized by its use of nonviolent direct action. This method was manifested predominately through marches that were organized to protest segregated facilities throughout the southern United States. It was supplemented in the early 1960s by the sit-in movement, which was orchestrated mostly by college students who ultimately organized to become the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In the post–Civil Rights era the SCLC has been primarily led by an old guard knowledgeable of the traditional means of forging change but perhaps less adept at utilizing new methods that are more relevant to today’s society. It faces the challenges of appealing to a generation of people who have more diverse experiences than its original constituency. It also operates in an environment in which racial discrimination remains a defining feature of American society, even though it does not appear in the same overt manner that it did during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement. It is against this backdrop that the SCLC operates. The SCLC is particularly challenged in accomplishing its objectives in the post–Civil Rights era for several reasons. First, its leadership is not as dynamic Seven F. Carl Walton The Southern Christian Leadership Conference Beyond the Civil Rights Movement What I would like to develop is an SCLC that is known programmatically more than one that is driven by personality . Historically, it was driven personality-wise. —Martin Luther King III Southern Christian Leadership Conference 133 as it used to be. Indeed, during the Civil Rights Movement the SCLC was headed by one of the most charismatic leaders of the twentieth century, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Much of the group’s success was attributable to King’s ability to mobilize the masses of Black Americans and to express his message articulately. Additionally, the issues affecting Black people during the Civil Rights Movement could be applied broadly, regardless of an individual’s socioeconomic standing in the society. Today many of the important problems affecting Blacks are not as easily definable and are often class based and thus mainly affect individuals based upon their socioeconomic class. Furthermore, some of the success of the movement came about because of the negative responses of White Americans to the overt racism of many White southern leaders. Examples are Bull Connor’s blatant violence against marchers in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and the harsh treatment of the voting rights protesters in Selma, Alabama, on Bloody Sunday in March 1965. The racism practiced in the post–Civil Rights era is often subtle. As a result, public support is more difficult to acquire because many potential supporters and even benefactors do not realize that a problem exists or are not able to agree on the proper solution. The SCLC also now exists in a period when affiliation with a strong Black organization is no longer necessary for leaders to achieve power. The work of the SCLC and other groups to achieve voting rights for Blacks in the United States (especially the South) resulted in increased voting, which brought about the election to public office of many powerful and charismatic Black leaders. As a result, some of the energy and talent that could be a part of the inner circle of the SCLC are now mainstream government officials. These individuals do not rely exclusively on Civil Rights organizations as a base of support. Moreover , these Civil Rights organizations do not possess the necessary financial resources to support a political campaign fully or other aspirations of politicians. Finally, during its early years the SCLC functioned mostly in response to crisis situations in various cities and regions. The SCLC was usually called to address the most overt instances of discrimination. In most cases the SCLC would implement a successful protest action, which would result in some improvement of the conditions in a particular area. While there was a group effort , King was generally the focal point of the SCLC’s actions. Since much of the success of the SCLC during the Civil Rights Movement is attributable to King’s charismatic leadership, a central question of the post– Civil Rights era is: Can a single leader be expected to generate a response to societal ills or to be the focal point of the response? Singular charismatic leadership...


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