Six days before his death, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was, according to inner circle eye witness accounts, a very depressed man. He could not escape the depression anymore than he would be able to escape the sniper waiting for an opportunity to squeeze off one single round, one shot for one kill.
The cause of Dr. King’s consternation was a constant barrage on the relevancy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and its love affair with non-violent direct action as a tool to effect social change in the face of black militancy uttered by H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., of New York.
Powell relished berating King before student audiences as “Martin Loser King,” according to King’s biographer William Robert Miller.
On March 25, 1968, Powell told a group in New York: “The white man is finished and the days of Martin Luther King have come to an end.” Thus King’s final days were given over to chasing after black critics who believed that Dr. King and SCLC were teetering on the absurd; so much so that Dr. King, in agreeing to participate in the Memphis sanitation worker’s strike, violated several of his basic tenants for non-violent direct engagement.
First, he agreed to participate in a march in the face of a court injunction, albeit unconstitutional, that forbade him and others from outside Memphis from marching with sanitation workers.
Second, Dr. King left the planning of the march to Bayard Rustin and union officials, even delaying the scheduled date of the march so Rustin could get labor organizers into Memphis.
Third, Dr. King was unable to control the language of the protest placards at the march. Thus the message of the march reflected the young militants who used profane language to define the confrontation.
According to Dr. C. T. Vivian, former Director of Affiliates for SCLC during much of the 1960s, “Dr. King held the moral ground because he refused to break the law to demonstrate for justice. ... (H)is staff meticulously planned every demonstration before there was a decision to enter a community, and ... love was the over-riding theme of each of King’s demonstrations.”
On March 30, 1968, Dr. King, hounded by Powell and others, was feeling dissension from within SCLC as some on his staff lobbied in support of a more militant posture. Weary from a hectic travel schedule, he called an SCLC staff meeting in his study at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
King used rather choice words for his inner circle. He told them there was too much unrest within the body and that they were not together. He snarled, “Before we go to Washington (for the Poor People’s Campaign) something has to happen within this staff.” Dr. King then stormed out of the room. He did not return to the meeting until a staffer came out to say, “Doc, the holy spirit is in this room.”
Twelve years into the twenty-first century something is terribly wrong with SCLC. They have not made any significant impact on any of the issues of the day confronting poor and middle class Americans. Perhaps the organization’s most meaningful demonstration in recent years was a march against itself last month from the tomb of Dr. King to the SCLC headquarters, with the marchers demanding King’s nephew, Isaac Newton Farris, reinstated as president of the organization.
The organization still resorts to litigation, but in recent years the organization has litigated against itself, seeking a court order to determine who has the right to act on behalf of SCLC. One faction seeking to represent the organization incurred legal expenses totaling more than $500,000. What they won was the right to control a bank account that had a total of $569,000 in it. When the winning side was unable to pay the attorney’s fees, the attorney slapped a lien on the recently refurbished national headquarters building.
On Monday, July 2, 2012, SCLC Board Chairman Dr. Bernard Lafayette is expected to announce that former SCLC President Charles Steele, Jr., will rejoin the organization as Chief Executive Officer. Steele, a former Alabama state senator, once locked himself in a board of education office in Alabama until the board agreed to get serious about the education of black and poor children. He is credited with being a master fundraiser and the person behind the renovated national headquarters.
This announcement would contribute to yet more dissension within SCLC. Keith Silver, SCLC Washington D.C. chapter president, wants to see Farris reinstated as president and has threatened to take the matter to the SCLC annual convention which is scheduled for Sanford, Fla., later this month.
“I support petitioning the court to appoint a special custodian to organize and restructure the National SCLC,” Silver, a graduate of Antioch School of Law, paralegal class of 1978, said.
Meanwhile, on July 1, an SCLC official of a Georgia Affiliate Chapter posted a quote attributed to Malcolm X on his Facebook page: “It’s a fool who would allow his enemy to educate his children.”
One suspects the same could be said for a civil rights organization that instead of doing the people’s business would seek to get a constitutional officer of the state of Georgia to organize and structure an organization that purports to petition the government for redress of grievances on behalf of the people.
How absurd is this?
Dr. King would probably look upon this turmoil and say, “Before the General Election in November, something has to happen within this staff. “
Perhaps, later in the month, when SCLC meets in Sanford, the leadership will tarry in an upper room until the agonizing spirit of the last days of Martin Luther King, Jr. fills the room.
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