The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) is a civil-rights organization founded in 1957 by Martin Luther King Jr and headed by him until his assassination in 1968. The inception of SCLC dates to 1955 when the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), led by King, set about organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a 13-month mass protest triggered by the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955, for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
Montgomery's ministers and leaders met to discuss the possibility of turning a protest, which saw 90 percent of Montgomery's black citizens refuse to use the buses, into a broader campaign. MIA coordinated the boycott, and the quest of King, the group's leader, to confront racial segregation through non-violent protests established him as a prominent civil rights leader.
In 1956, Bayard Rustin, a close advisor to King and one of the most influential organizers of the Civil Rights Movement, came up with the idea of establishing an organization that would coordinate the action of local protest groups in cities throughout the South. Following intensive consultations, King invited 60 black ministers from 10 states across the South to a meeting at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in January 1957, where they discussed ways to abolish racial segregation on the public transit system through non-violent resistance. The meeting resulted in the foundation of the Southern Leadership Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration, which issued a public statement encouraging black Americans "to seek justice and reject all injustice," and to avoid violence "no matter how great the provocation."
At a meeting in New Orleans on February 14, 1957, the group changed its name to Southern Leadership Conference, established an executive board of directors and elected King as president. Rev Ralph Abernathy of Montgomery, Rev C.K. Steele of Tallahassee, Rev T.J. Jemison of Baton Rouge, and I.M. Augustine of New Orleans all assumed leading posts within the organization. The group adopted its current name, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, at its first convention in Montgomery in August 1957, including the word "Christian" to emphasize the spiritual nature of the organization.
Operating as an umbrella organization of affiliates, SCLC inculcated black Americans with the principle of Christian non-violence by offering training programs and opening citizenship schools. It was keen on presenting the struggle for civil rights to America and the world as a moral issue. SCLC's ?rst major campaign was the Crusade for Citizenship, beginning in late 1957. The campaign sought to register African Americans, deprived of the right to vote, in time for the 1958 and 1960 elections. The operation set itself the goal of forcing a change to the voting rights system and of persuading blacks that "their chances for improvement rest on their ability to vote." The campaign was funded mainly by large sums from private donors.
SCLC also took part in campaigns across the South such as the Albany Movement, the Birmingham campaign, the St. Augustine Protests, the Selma Voting Rights Campaign and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, where King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream," speech. SCLC's drive to abolish segregation facilitated the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination for reason of color, race, religion or national origin, and created equal rights in education, employment and public accommodation. The bill was introduced by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson a year later.
SCLC began to address the issue of poverty among African Americans and started to campaign for the creation of jobs in the black community. The assassination of King on April 4, 1968, stunned SCLC and caused it to slow the pace of its operations. Ralph Abernathy, King's closest friend and a central figure in the civil rights struggle during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, took the helm at the organization. Under Abernathy, who could not match King's leadership talents and charisma, however, SCLC found itself beset by financial problems and infighting that led to its significant decline in influence. Although keeping its original goals, in subsequent decades into the 21st century, SCLC has adopted new causes including health care, job-site safety, and justice in environmental and prison system matters.