07/28/2011 02:12 pm ET Updated Sep 27, 2011

Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader dies

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - The president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization whose founders included the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., died of an apparent heart attack early on Thursday.

Howard W. Creecy Jr., a 57-year-old Baptist minister, had been president of the SCLC for only six months and worked to rebuild it after a series of internal disputes over leadership. He died at his home in Atlanta.

Creecy took over the presidency in January after King's daughter, Bernice King, declined to accept the position, citing differences with the board of directors.

Creecy revitalized the SCLC, spokesman Maynard Eaton told Reuters.

"He saved this organization," Eaton said. "It was on the brink of disaster. He became this organization's lifeline with his charisma and his preacher passion."

Creecy continued as pastor of a church while serving as president, Eaton said.

"In hindsight, he may have worked himself to death," Eaton said. "He wanted to make sure the SCLC he grew up with regained its luster and its mission."

Isaac Newton Farris Jr., a nephew of Martin Luther King, will serve as the interim president of the SCLC.

"We will work to continue on the path that (Creecy) and leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. laid before us," Farris said in a statement.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)