The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was a civil rights organization that consisted of mainly African-Americans and was closely connected to its founder, Martin Luther King Junior. This organization played a very significant role in the American civil rights by enforcing peaceful direct action to stop the legal and social discernment against the black Americans. The organization through the support of their very powerful leader Luther King Junior organized and funded a lot of demonstrations in the 1950s and 1960s.
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Although the organization lost its impact after the assassination of the King in 1968, the SCLC did not stop its operations but continued working to better the lives of African Americans.
The SCLC arose back in 1955 after black Americans in Montgomery, Alabama successfully boycotted bus services which led to the United States Supreme Court upholding the integration of those buses (Fairclough, Adam (85). An African American social activist Bayard Rustin who desired to carry the Montgomery win to the South prodded Martin Luther and his team to form the Southern Negro Leaders Conference in 1957 during a meeting in Atlanta. Since the King had gained popularity as a leader of Montgomery Improvement Association, he was given the role to lead this organization as well which was the precursor of the SCLC. The SCLC looked forward to carrying out Gandhi an, peaceful direct action protest matches all over the South hoping that they will bring to the end racial discrimination, voting right be granted to the blacks among other advantages. They also wanted to transfer the civil rights proceedings from the court chambers to the society wishing to talk directly to the white Americans to end the racism and bring about social changes. The first action before the protest was to lead a prayer journey to Washington, D.C in 1957 that attracted more than 25 thousand people. In 1959, it planned a protest march to the Washington D.C that was attended by an approximated fifty thousand youths.
Though SCLC was having very successful protests but it was in a weak position due to the poor organization during its first years. It had challenges trying to achieve its objectives, especially in voter registration. Its success began to show later in the 1960s after they hired leaders like Andrew J. Young and Bishop Wyatt T. Walker. The organization continued to recruit more members of staff and they had improved from five to sixty-five staff members between 1960 and 1964, and the union influence on the civil rights movement reached its peak. The SCLC’s advancements gave it the chance to organize historic demonstrations that played an essential duty in the public rights movement.
The organization in 1963 led demonstrations and boycotts in Birmingham, Alabama, that aimed at ending the police brutality. During the protests, those watching televisions in the United States were shocked to witness how the police brutally engaged very peaceful protestors which led to many questions among States residents. SCLC was able to win the people’s sympathy nationwide which motivated them to carry out another civil right demonstration in Selma in 1965 where the police still directed violence to the non-violent protestors; this attracted a very violent demonstration response from the whites. These demonstrations are widely accredited with quickening the signing of the 1964 civil rights act, the voting rights act in 1965 as well as laws that finally allowed the black Americans freedoms they had been wishing for.
In the mid-1960s, SCLC members and other African Americans started to doubt whether the ongoing peaceful direct action would ever bring about the required changes in their society. Some major civil rights organizations like the student nonviolent organizing committee and the assembly of racial equality went ahead and publicly announced that SCLC will no longer hold nonviolent protests. They cried against the poverty and the racial discrimination the African Americans were going through in the northern cities, they claimed that whatever the SCLC was doing did not help in the urban ghetto. Luther King and his members of staff were very thoughtful of such condemnation; they immediately diverted their attention to the northern regions and by 1967, they had launched several new organizations there. These Civil rights movements included the Chicago Freedom Movement, Poor People’s Campaign and the Operation Bread-basket. These movements were led by young leaders like theology student leader called Jesse Jackson.
SCLC was interested in addressing the poverty that was affecting the black Americans in the inner city ghettoes. They were worried that African Americans violence in the inner cities was losing control and they accused poverty as the root cause. Most of the residents had turned into crime as a way of meeting their basic wants since blacks were not allowed in the white companies. SCLC thought by creating jobs they would solve the problems and improve their lives as well. It was lack of jobs and poverty in ghettoes that forced many blacks to join radical movements whose main objective were to get rid of the government leaders while the SCLC acted as the main support. The assassination of the King in 1968 was a major blow to the organization because he was the SCLC.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference civil right movement under the leadership of Martin Luther King Junior has a lot of everlasting importance to the African Americans and the United States as well. The big March to the Washington where King gave his ?I have a dream’speech was a very significant occasion as it put pressure on the government to change some laws. In his speech, he expressed his desires that racial discrimination would end in the nation making it free for the Blacks to mix freely with Whites and both have equal rights too (Garrow, D. J (45-51). He wanted a country where children were not judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character. After the assassination of President Kennedy, Johnson took over the leadership and passed the civil rights bill. During this time the King was still the president of SCLC so it was a victory enjoyed by the whole movement not him alone. Up to date, African Americans enjoy same rights as the whites without any violence or discrimination.
Back in 1962, SCLC diverted its focus from just fighting racism to campaigning against the issues of economic inequality. The organization believed that poverty was the main cause of social discrimination and they created the Operation Breadbasket that was based in Atlanta to create employment to the African American (Chong, Dennis (90). This program began to spread to other areas like Chicago in 1996 which made it gain popularity. After one year, another program called the poor people’s campaign was created mainly to bring many poor people together so they can march to Washington and ask for federal legislation that would provide income, jobs as well as houses for the discriminated people of all ethnicities. After the King was assassinated, the new president Ralph Abernathy led a group of people who camped for 11 days outside Washington D.C. all these were attained after the civil rights were passed by President Johnson who took over after the death of Kennedy.
Another accomplishment by the SCLC was after the pressured they issued to the government until the Black were allowed to take part in the voting exercise. They held a campaign called the crusade for citizenship that was sparked by civil rights bill pending in the Congress. The campaign main goal was to register many marginalized voters before the 1960 the voting year; they also took the chance to educate potential voters. SCLC was still joined by other civil rights movements in their campaigns in the south, most particularly in Georgia, Selma, Florida, and Albany. The conspicuousness of SCLC fight for rights led to the passage of the voting rights act in the year 1965. Its president Martin Luther King made America a proud nation with his leadership skills and sacrificing so much for the people. He created the American dream which everybody wishes to achieve and there is even a national holiday named after him.
Fairclough, Adam. “”The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Second Reconstruction, 1957-1973.”” South (The) Atlantic Quarterly Durham, NC 80.2 (1981): 117-194
Garrow, D. J. (2015). Bearing the cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian leadership conference. Open Road Media.
Chong, Dennis. Collective action and the civil rights movement. University of Chicago Press, 2014.
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