By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service
(RNS) Fifteen months after being tapped to head the civil rights group founded by her famous father, the Rev. Bernice King has declined the post, citing a leadership clash and an inability to "move forward."
King's decision leaves the venerable Southern Christian Leadership Conference again facing an uncertain future, a half century after it was founded to mobilize black churches in the Rev. Martin Luther King's fight against discrimination.
"After numerous attempts to connect with the official board leaders on how to move forward under my leadership, unfortunately, our visions did not align," King said in statement on Friday (Jan. 21).
Instead, she said, she plans to work with immigration activist Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, whose National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference is modeled on the SCLC, and work to develop the legacy of her mother, Coretta Scott King.
Founded in 1957, the Atlanta-based SCLC has been wracked by turmoil over financial and leadership fights that landed in a state court. In September, a judge ruled that a board faction that attempted to have its own meetings had acted improperly.
The Rev. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes said the SCLC, like other civil rights organizations, is grappling with how to operate in a new generation with new identities.
"We've reached a point where black communities are going through a transition in terms of who we are," said Gilkes, a professor of African-American studies at Colby College in Maine.
SCLC leaders say the organization will forge ahead despite not having a member of the King family at the top.
"It means that we continue being the advocate for the downtrodden, the voice for the voiceless," said the Rev. Howard Creecy, interim president and national vice president of the SCLC.
"This is just one person's decision to go in another direction," he said, noting that other children of founding members remain on its board. "It is the decision of one person to utilize their talents and skills to advocate for social justice through another vehicle."
Art Rocker, an SCLC board member and special assistant to the board chairman, said the organization continues to set up new chapters and is working along the Gulf Coast to help people recovering from the BP oil spill.
Rocker said it is fitting that King would want to work on her mother's legacy.
"As a child of Dr. King, Coretta Scott King -- two giants -- she should have that option," he said.
Bernice King, a motivational speaker and a minister at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church near Atlanta, could not be reached for comment about the specifics of her plans.
But Rodriguez said he expects he and King will launch their joint initiative by June, focusing on immigration reform and the high dropout rates among black and Latino high school students.
"We're looking at finding together a movement, a viable solution to the immigration reform crisis, one that is not amnesty and one that is not Arizona," said Rodriguez, who spoke at Martin Luther King Day services at the elder King's Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Jan.
Rosetta Ross, an associate professor of religious studies at Spelman College in Atlanta, said Bernice King's decision is a "loss" for the SCLC, but said work with Rodriguez could have potential.
"There are ways that the two groups can develop coalitions and collaborations that I think are going to be beneficial," she said.