Of the many things to come from the mind of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was one of the greatest. Founded on January 10th, 1957, the SCLC was a collaborative effort from Ralph Abernathy, Joseph Lowery, Fred Shuttlesworth, C.K. Steele and of course Dr. King. There were over 60 black ministers and civil rights leaders that were also involved with the creation, making this a huge effort on their part to even get it off of the ground. It served not only in name as hope for the people, but as a peaceful way to gain rights that were unfairly being denied to hardworking people worldwide.
If it weren’t for the Freedom Rides of 1961, things may have turned out differently for the struggling conference. Things took a turn for the better when they received a foundation grant after taking over the Highlander Folks School’s Citizenship Education Project. With the assimilation of that grant and extra money allotted towards voter registration work in the South, they were finally on the right track. What started out as an idea to help people in need was finally getting off of the ground and gaining some real traction within the community.
The SCLC finally had everything it needed to make their first big move. They were preparing to target Albany, Georgia, with their first direct action campaign to protest segregation and discrimination. However, just like the problems the organization endured trying to become established, this first action also suffered from big ideas but wrong execution. Rising issues with the rival Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee played a big part, leading SCLC to go back to the drawing board. However, all of these setbacks are what makes this story so great, since their first real victory in 1963 showed the true purpose of the organization.
In the Birmingham campaign, the SCLC saw its most effective victory in the face of violence, racism and outright disrespect. During the four-month campaign, they endured dogs, high pressure fire hoses, and the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Dr. King even saw the inside of a jail cell, in which he got the inspiration to write the infamous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” With things getting completely out of hand, President John F. Kennedy stepped up and called for the National Civil Rights Act. Due to this success, they continued to organize regularly in 1964, which successfully led to President Lyndon Johnson passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
After Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, the organization was successfully led over the years by many of his relatives, including Martin Luther King III and Bernice King, the first woman to hold the post.