ATLANTA – Some members and leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference called Friday for the immediate reinstatement of the civil rights organization's former president. The group says the SCLC board dismissed Isaac Farris without any input from chapter presidents.
The group, made up of current and former chapter presidents and members, issued a statement saying a recent attempt to discuss the matter was ignored by the SCLC board. The group plans to meet next week to vote on whether to ask a judge to intervene. In a letter addressed to SCLC board members and signed by 13 people, the group says the national office makes decisions unilaterally and is dishonest about its struggle with finances.
Farris was ousted in April. Civil rights veteran C.T. Vivian was named interim president.
Trina Baynes, chapter president for SCLC in Henry County, said there has been a breakdown in communications with the board. She said the letter is a way to set matters straight and request a forum to air grievances about the "mismanagement" of the organization. Baynes insists it's not an attempt to further erode the organization's reputation. It is an effort to restore it, she said.
"We do not reject authority or guidance. What we do reject is destruction of this organization whether it is from a body inside or outside," Baynes said. "There is obviously a conflict with the board and its mission and we are here to set it right."
Maynard Eaton, a spokesman for the SCLC, said the chairman and executive board will not comment, and he said the "claims are baseless and have no legitimacy." Eaton said Baynes is no longer an official member of SCLC, but would not elaborate. Further, Eaton said some people whose signatures appear on the letter said their names were added without their knowledge.
"There is no issue," Eaton said. "It's talk and has no credibility."
The SCLC was founded in 1957 by a coalition of civil rights leaders including the Rev. Martin Luther King and others, with the goal of ending segregation and racial discrimination through nonviolent direct action. But the organization's reputation has been smudged in recent years by infighting and accusations of mismanagement of finances.
SCLU's reputation took another hit with a complaint in 2010 that two ousted SCLC board members had stolen more than $560,000. Prosecutors in Georgia found no proof to support the claim. SCLC veterans like former U.S. Rep. Andrew Young and the Rev. Joseph Lowery were calling for the group's end. Later in 2010, a glimmer of hope arose when Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, was elected to be the first female president. It was quickly put out when she declined the job.
Despite a clear fracture in the SCLC, Baynes said members are hopeful.
"If the SCLC had the moral authority to right the wrongs of a mighty government as it had done in its history, we can certainly right our own and we're not going to stop until we get back to the mission of serving the people because there is no other reason for us to exist," she said.
The group will address the concerns publically at a press conference on Monday. Farris, the former president, is expected to speak.