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Name changed to Southern Christian Leadership Conference at third meeting; King announces "Crusade for Citizenship"

The third meeting of the Southern Leaders Conference is held at Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery. The organization’s name is changed to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and King announces the launching of a “Crusade for Citizenship,” a massive voter registration drive in the South. A mass meeting at Holt Street ends the two-day session.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)

With the goal of redeeming “the soul of America” through nonviolent resistance, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was established in 1957 to coordinate the action of local protest groups throughout the South (King, “Beyond Vietnam,” 144). Under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., the organization drew on the power and independence of black churches to support its activities. “This conference is called,” King wrote, with fellow ministers C. K. Steele and Fred Shuttlesworth in January 1957, “because we have no moral choice, before God, but to delve deeper into the struggle—and to do so with greater reliance on non-violence and with greater unity, coordination, sharin, and Christian understanding” (Papers 4:95).

Tilley, John Lee

In April 1958 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) asked John Lee Tilley, pastor of New Metropolitan Baptist Church in Baltimore, to become the organization’s first executive director. Responding to Tilley’s appointment, Martin Luther King described him as a “very able man with a great deal of experience and know-how in the area of Human Relations” (King, 9 July 1958). Within one year of Tilley’s selection, however, King asked the minister to submit his resignation.

Smith, Kelly Miller

As a social gospel minister, Kelly Miller Smith believed in using his pastorate to promote activism. Smith participated in the founding meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, and co-founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Council (NCLC) a year later. In a 1961 telegram Smith described Martin Luther King as the “embodiment of the message you bear” (Smith, 19 December 1961).

Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project

On 15 June 1965 Martin Luther King addressed the opening orientation session for student volunteers in Atlanta’s Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He told the assembled volunteers: “This generation of students is found where history is being made” (King, 15 June 1965).

Voting Rights Act of 1965

On 6 August 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, calling the day “a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield” (Johnson, “Remarks in the Capitol Rotunda”). The law came seven months after Martin Luther King launched a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) campaign based in Selma, Alabama, with the aim of pressuring Congress to pass such legislation.

Voter Education Project (VEP)

The Voter Education Project (VEP) coordinated the voter registration campaigns of five civil rights groups—the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the National Urban League—under the auspices of the Southern Regional Council (SRC), a non-profit research organization. The creation of the VEP enabled foundations to make tax-free donations directly to voter registration efforts, which were then coordinated by SRC to prevent duplicate coverage areas. Martin Luther King believed the VEP to be a success, pledging to “continue to participate personally” in its registration efforts (King, 5 April 1962).


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