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SCLC... Our History 

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The very beginnings of the SCLC can be traced back to the Montgomery, Alabama, Bus Boycott that began on December 5, 1955, when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on the city bus. The newly established Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) carried out the boycott that lasted for 381 days and ended on December 21, 1956, with the desegregation of the Montgomery, Alabama, citybus system. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as President and Ralph Abernathy served as program director.

It was one of history’s most dramatic and massive nonviolent protests, stunning the nation and the world. The boycott was also a signal to Black Americans to begin a new phase of the long struggle known as the modern Civil Rights Movement. As bus boycotts began to spread across the south, leaders of the MIA and other groups came together to form a regional organization to coordinate protest activities across the South.

Despite the bombing of the home and church of Ralph Abernathy during, 60 persons from 10 states assembled and announced the founding of the Southern Leadership Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration. They issued a document declaring that civil rights are essential to democracy, segregation must end, and all Black people should reject segregation absolutely and non-violently. Further organizing was done at a meeting in New Orleans on February 14, 1957.

The organization shortened its name to Southern Leadership Conference, established an Executive Board of Directors, and elected officers, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as President, Dr. Ralph Abernathy, Financial Secretary-Treasurer, Rev. C. K. Steele, Vice President, Rev. T. J. Jemison, Secretary, and Attorney I. M. Augustine as General Counsel. At its first convention in Montgomery in August 1957, the Southern Leadership Conference adopted the current name, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Basic decisions made by the founders at these early meetings included the adoption of nonviolent mass action as the cornerstone of strategy, the affiliation of local community organizations with SCLC across the South, and a determination to make the SCLC movement open to all; regardless of race, religion, or background. 

SCLC is a nation-wide organization made up of chapters and affiliates with programs that affect the lives of all Americans. Its sphere of influence and interests have become international in scope because the civil rights and human rights movement transcends national boundaries.

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