“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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org