The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is bringing back one of its past presidents to serve as the civil rights organization’s chief executive officer.
The SCLC announced Monday that Charles Steele will serve as CEO in an effort to ”restore the financial stability and credibility of SCLC.” Steele served as president from 2004 to 2009. The Tuscaloosa, Ala., native inherited an SCLC that was near bankruptcy and is credited with boosting membership and leading the organization back to solid financial footing.
During his tenure, Steele opened international conflict resolution centers and helped build the group’s $3.3 million headquarters in downtown Atlanta.
The SCLC was co-founded in 1957 by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to advance racial equality, but has been plagued for decades by infighting. The group is currently led by interim President C.T. Vivian, a longtime activist who worked alongside King during the civil rights movement. Meanwhile, King’s nephew, Isaac Newton Farris Jr., recently expressed his desire to reclaim the presidency after claiming he was unfairly forced out earlier this year.
Expensive legal battles in recent years have left the organization financially vulnerable. SCLC has been in danger of losing its headquarters, which was opened debt-free in 2007. Spokesman Maynard Eaton said Steele is committed to making sure the organization remains solvent.
Bickering has left SCLC adrift, as the group is on its fourth president since Steele’s departure. King’s daughter, Bernice, was elected to lead the organization in 2010, but later declined to take the helm.
The SCLC is set to hold its annual conference the weekend of July 20 in Sanford, Fla., in the city where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. The case heightened racial tensions and raised questions about Florida’s so-called ”stand your ground” law.
According to Maynard Eaton, publicist of SCLC, “We put together the announcement of a Dream Team where Dr. Steele signed a promissory note to commit to raise a sum of money to assure that SCLC becomes a solvent organization.” Eaton added, Steele is also committed “to continuously sustaining the organization’s financially stability for future generations.”