ATLANTA – A recent court ruling over control of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference board effectively ends a longstanding power struggle, officials say, and clears the way for the organization to rebuild, rebrand and revitalize.
The Georgia Supreme Court last week denied a request to hear a leadership challenge brought by ousted SCLC board members. A superior court judge ruled last fall against the breakaway faction.
Interim SCLC president Rev. C. T. Vivian says the court ruling now allows the historic organization to focus its time and energy on civil rights issues, rather than legal battles.
"We've been constrained by this legal quagmire. Donors have been uncertain as to where to place their money, time and energy. This victory clarifies the issue," Vivian said.
"We no longer have to worry about any further legal actions being brought. This makes it very clear we've won," he added. "We are now in complete charge of SCLC."
The victory couldn't have come at a better time for an organization that's had five presidents in the last eight years – and is looking for a sixth.
Former president Isaac Farris Jr., nephew of SCLC co-founder Martin Luther King, Jr., was ousted from his leadership post two weeks ago in what was described as a "transition" in the group's history. Farris could not be reached for comment.
Officials say they are launching a national search for new president.
"We are doing our due diligence and going about the process carefully, to choose someone who has the best interest of SCLC at heart and someone who can lead this organization into the future," said acting executive director, Damien Connors.
The 55-year-old civil rights organization has been embroiled in controversy over the past few years, including board infighting and the mishandling of funds, which had split the group into two factions.
In 2010, federal and local authorities launched an investigation into allegations that SCLC's chairman and treasurer mismanaged at least $569,000 of the group's money. The dispute split longtime colleagues – some with friendships dating back to the civil rights era – and exposed severe gaps in SCLC's governance.
Authorities later found the accusations were unsubstantiated.
Several names have surfaced as potential candidates to replace Farris, including: Ralph Abernathy III, son of former SCLC member and King confidant, Rev. Ralph Abernathy Jr.; Rev. Joseph Williams of Salem Bible Church, and Rev. Markel Hutchins, who had claimed to be president when the factions were split.
In an interview with the Atlanta Voice, Hutchins said wants the job and believes he could help solve some of the internal issues that still plague the organization.
"In the past, the SCLC has assigned the leadership post to persons who have not had a commitment and passion for civil rights issues. I've always been publicly advocating for civil rights issues," he said.
"In order for a movement for human and civil rights to succeed, it has to involve the younger generation," he added, "and that's what I bring to the table