SCLC leadership removed amid mismanagement claims

Published 11:40 pm Wednesday, December 23, 2009

As the daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. prepares to take the helm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization co-founded by her famous father is embroiled in an internal investigation that is distracting leaders from the group’s mission.

A statement issued late Monday by an SCLC spokeswoman announced the removal of the SCLC’s chairman, the Rev. Raleigh Trammell, and its treasurer, the Rev. Spiver Gordon, pending an internal investigation into alleged mismanagement.

A telephone call Tuesday to Trammell in Dayton, Ohio was not answered. Gordon, of Eutaw, Ala., did not immediately return a phone call.

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The Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference was founded by King and other civil rights leaders in 1957 with the mission to “save the soul of America.” Today, the group claims about 10,000 members in nearly 80 chapters in 17 states from Georgia to California.

In the years since King headed the group — which boasted as many as 100,000 members under his watch — the SCLC has lost influence, funding and membership, and infighting has led the group to stagnate.

The bickering and other issues have overshadowed signs of progress for SCLC that included paying off millions in debt and opening a $3 million headquarters in downtown Atlanta.

In October, King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, was elected the eighth president of the SCLC and has pledged to be a bridge between the civil rights and hip-hop generations. A date for her installation has not been set.

In June, a former SCLC board member asked for a federal investigation into the alleged disappearance of more than $1.4 million in SCLC funds. And last year, the group clashed with the president of its Los Angeles chapter over his support for gay marriage in California.

The statement released Monday in the name of the SCLC board said the investigation was launched in October concerning mismanagement of organization funds. The SCLC says a personnel matter involving an Ohio employee also is being investigated.

The release stated that the SCLC board named the Rev. Sylvia Tucker as acting chairman and attorney Randall Gaines as interim treasurer.

SCLC compliance officer Bill Shanklin said Tuesday that the press release was premature.

“It is categorically ungodlike for those persons who have released without the authority of the board of directors these kinds of irresponsible statements,” Shanklin said. “It is not becoming conduct of a Christian or a person who has concern for the welfare of the organization.”