No Mention of SCLC At King Statue Unveiling

Dr. Charles Steele, Jr. at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

“SCLC is the only organization that Dr. King ever organized,” bellowed Charles Steele, Jr., President and Chief Executive Office of the International Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to a packed church on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa, Alabama last spring.

In spite of this fact the name of SCLC was not mentioned during an unveiling of a  statue of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the grounds of the Georgia state capitol on the 54th anniversary of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

During an hour and a half cermony with all of the solemnity fit for a man of Dr. King’s prominence there was not one single recognition of the role that SCLC played in his march towards immortality. None, not one single word, not one single letter.

Steele was not invited to participate in the ceremony. He did not attend it. Instead, Steele participated in the 1000 Ministers March on Washington called by Rev. Al Sharpton three weeks ago following the Charlottesville riot.

His chief of staff and Maynard Eaton, the SCLC Director of Communications were present. However, neither of them were recognized or asked to bring an expression on behalf of the organization that legitimized the work of Dr. King.

In many respects, SCLC continues to carry forth the work of Dr. King today. This may be the rub. Community leaders like to portray that the battles of the past have been won. Therefore, there is no place for the type of agitation that Dr. King was noted for bringing to bear on the issues of his day. SCLC’s continued presence is an indication that things are not as good as community and political leaders spin them to be.

“It hurts,” Steele said from Washington several hours after Georgia Governor Nathan Deal unveiled the statue which depicts Dr. King in full stride with his head looking toward the horizon.

Dr. Charles Steele, Jr. in Memphis site of SCLC 49th National Convention.

“But you have to keep moving on,” Steele added.

Of the five speakers who spoke during the program, three of them were Black. The first to speak was Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Reed was not born when King organized SCLC.

Then State Representative Calvin Smyre spoke of the many people in state government who should be credited with manifesting the King statute. He was a student at Fort Valley State College when Dr. King was assassinated.

Smyre was followed by King’s daughter, Bernice King. She came close to recognizing SCLC when after a beautiful speech about the high moral standard set by Dr. King, she asked all the people that had worked with him to stand. Ambassador Andrew Young, Rev. Gerald Durley and a few other SCLC members stood.

“They trying to say that SCLC is dead, that we are not relevant anymore” Steele told delegates to the 68th SCLC Convention in Memphis last month.

“But I’m here to tell you they are wrong. If I worried about people trying to kill SCLC I could not get up in the morning and do this job,” Steele said.

Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine and Black College Nines. He can be contacted at




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Published by Michael

Harold Michael Harvey is a Past President of The Gate City Bar Association and is the recipient of the Association’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award. He is the author of Paper Puzzle and Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System, and a two-time winner of Allvoices’ Political Pundit Prize. His work has appeared in Facing South, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Black Colleges Nines, and Medium.

2 replies on “No Mention of SCLC At King Statue Unveiling”

  1. Honestly, Michael a lot more could be done if so many of these aging organizations were as worried about what happens to young Black people as they are worried about being acknowledged. Yes, they should be acknowledged and included in some part of this statue unveiling…but the SCLC..whew. One day, when older Black men are willing to deflate their overblown egos and sense of entitlement and sit down and listen to what is really going on with the young Black people that I meet, then maybe, maybe the SCLC will be relevant again. But this kind of “where-is-my-acknowledgement” smacks of the same missed opportunities that so many elder Black leaders have missed when dealing with young Black people. I’m sorry, but as long as old Black male leadership clings to its position and TALKS AT young Black people the more useless and irrelevant they become. Sorry, but my job is to work myself out of business, to become irrelevant, to have my students take over whatever work I have done. My job is not to become a permanent institution. Peace. As always your commentary always provokes deep thought.

    1. Joy, as always your thoughts are clear and comes from the dead-level. They are greatly appreciated and always adds prespective to contemporary discourse.

      Let me be clear about this piece. I do not want to leave the impression that officials at SCLC are complaining about being left off of this program. In fact no one at SCLC complained to me about being left off this program.This story came about as a result of an observation that my curious political historian mind pondered as I witnessed this historic occasion.

      Also, SCLC does a lot of work with young people. A good portion of their national convention in Memphis this past July was dedicated to young people and getting them more involved in the solutions that uplift their lives.

      Probably around December or January 2018, SCLC will debut its own hip-hop record label, that will feature young talent with clean contemporary messaging.There is a lot of work going on down on Auburn Avenue that is out of sight of the public.

      Additionally, I have to give SCLC credit for plunging into the Occupy Atlanta Movement during the early part of this decade. The organization opened their doors and met with the young leaders of this movement and offered guidance in non-violent direct action. As history recalls, the Occupy Atlanta was one of the less violent public confrontations that occurred during that period of current history.

      SCLC did the same thing with the leadership of the local Black Lives Matter Movement. I think much of the work SCLC does today is out of the spotlight and the casual observer misses their level of relevant activity in today’s society.

      One final note, if the goal of every institution is to put itself out of business, would that not also include governments,its leaders and other centers of social change? If the answer is yes, why then do we still need, for example, a Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change. Shouldn’t they by now have worked themselves out of existence? The world, I might add, is too complex for that to occur.

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