The annual meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, is going on today in Sanford, Florida, after a judge in Fulton County Georgia failed on Wednesday to issue an injunction to stop it.
In this latest round of infighting in the organization founded in 1957 by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others, eight SCLC leaders sued the organization on Tuesday, saying the board of the national organization headquartered in Atlanta had violated Georgia state law and SCLC bylaws by not giving its membership adequate notice of the meeting.
The group also called into question the ouster in March of president Isaac Farris Jr., the nephew of King. “They had a meeting in March by conference call to remove Farris,” said Elijah Tutt, president of the Southwest Atlanta Chapter of SCLC. “Farris was on the board, but he didn’t even receive notice of the meeting.”
Tutt, who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, says that national board does what it wants to do. “It doesn’t give chapters an opportunity to voice their opinion. Our bylaws say that they are supposed to get input on what the membership wants,” Tutt told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
The 21-year-old said he has been a member of SCLC since he was nine and will not attend the conference this year because of the change in timing.
The conference had been scheduled for Atlanta, but about four weeks ago, Tutt said he learned that it was being held in Florida.
Art Rocker, a national board member and chairman of the SCLC convention this year, said the conference was shifted to Florida this year because it is at the heart of issues the organization is tackling.
“We’re in Sanford, Florida because this is where the Trayvon Martin murder took place. This is where they are dealing with voter suppression,” Rocker told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “We’ve been working in Florida and along the Gulf to get justice for those who worked in the underclass, but have been left out of the claims process following the BP oil disaster.”
Rocker on Wednesday night said he did not know how many people would be attending the conference. “All I know is that the hotel is full,” he said.
Fighting within the SCLC is not unusual, said Rocker, president of the Florida SCLC.
“The SCLC is made up of a lot of strong leaders, and it has been an incubator for many other civil rights groups. People leave us and go on to do greater things in other groups,” he said.
But Tutt said their goal is not to leave, but to make SCLC stronger, by forcing the board to abide by its own rules.
“The bylaws say that the meeting is supposed to start on or after the second Sunday in August,” Tutt told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
Rod Edmond, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the judge in Georgia did not grant the injunction because of the timing of the request, but indicated that the actions of official business taken at the SCLC national meeting this year could later be declared null and void.
“The request for an injunction was filed on the 17th. In the emergency hearing on Wednesday, the judge said because people had probably already traveled to Florida for the meeting, he would not issue an injunction,” Edmond told BlackAmericaWeb.com. The claims in the lawsuit about the group’s failure to follow bylaws and the method in which Farris was ousted will be addressed at a future hearing, Edmond said.
One of the problems with SCLC over the years has been its “sloppy way of doing business,” Edmond said. “There is a need for strong institutions like the SCLC. This lawsuit will help heal an organization that is crippled by forcing the leadership to follow the checks and balances in its bylaws and in Georgia state law.”