ATLANTA (AP) — The Rev. Bernice King has been chosen as the first woman to head the civil rights organization co-founded by her father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference announced her election as its eighth president Friday morning. Interim President Byron Clay called King and said she accepted the position.
“In the spirit of your father, Martin Luther King Jr., we look forward with anticipation to your leadership,” Clay told King, 46, as reporters listened to his end of the conversation.
She could be heard responding, “Thank you very much.”
“SCLC is a great organization with a rich history,” Clay told reporters. “She is excited. I am excited. The nation will be excited.”
The 52-year-old organization met for seven hours behind closed doors at its national headquarters in downtown Atlanta on Thursday. General counsel Dexter Wimbish said ballots were tallied by an independent third party and locked in a bag which was locked in a safe. They were unsealed Friday.
The other candidate was Judge Wendell Griffen of Little Rock, Ark. He was the first black attorney to work for a major Arkansas law firm and is an ordained minister and pastor of New Millennium Church.
Martin Luther King Jr. was the SCLC’s first president, serving from 1957 until his death in 1968. His eldest son, Martin Luther King III, was president from 1998 to 2003.
Bernice King inherits an SCLC and issues much changed from the days of her father’s leadership. And she will have to work to rebuild the organization, which has stumbled in recent years.
“She can hearken back to her father’s legacy, but she’s going to have to redefine it,” said Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie. “She now, as his child, is going to have to figure out a way to push that legacy forward so we don’t perpetuate a stagnant, chauvinistic civil rights agenda.”
Internal bickering has overshadowed signs of progress for SCLC that included paying off millions in debt and opening a $3 million headquarters in Atlanta. A former state director in Florida accused several national leaders of financial mismanagement and the president of the Los Angeles chapter last fall clashed with leadership over his support for gay marriage in California.
Today, SCLC has roughly 10,000 members and nearly 80 chapters in 17 states from Georgia to California. The group has also opened a nonviolent conflict resolution center in Israel, with plans to open 10 international sites in 10 years.
Charles Steele of Alabama resigned as president on Jan. 31 and still works with the group as a conflict resolution consultant. Clay has served as interim president since February. It is not yet known when he will step down and King will take over as president.
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