Former Fulton County Chaplin Howard Creecy Jr., newly elected president of SCLC. (PHOTO CREDIT: STAN WASHINGTON)
By Stan Washington
Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice
ATLANTA–It seemed for a time that the iconic Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had encountered an enemy more powerful than the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizens Council–a foe that might finally destroy the organization that survived the assassination of its most famous leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ironically, this enemy was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Charges of mismanagement and institutional infighting–largely over who should lead the historic civil rights group–appeared to threaten the viability of the Atlanta-based organization.
The conflict, which ultimately landed in court, also delayed the installation of its president-elect Bernice King, the youngest daughter of the slain civil rights leader.
When a Fulton County judge ruled, last year, on which board was legitimate, King opted not to be installed as president, saying that she and the court-sanctioned board had a difference of opinion on how she should govern.
The board then appointed a new president, Atlanta minister and former Fulton County Chaplin Howard Creecy Jr., whose late father was involved in the civil rights movement and was a college roommate of former SCLC president, Ralph D. Abernathy.
In one of his first interviews since taking office, Creecy expressed confidence that he can repair SCLC’s image and restore the organization to its former role as a leader in the fight against injustice.
“SCLC is in my DNA,” said Creecy, a third-generation minister who pastors The Olivet Church in Fayetteville.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Atlanta Voice: Why did you decide to accept the position of president?
Creecy: Being on the inside, I knew the truth was not being told. The story was being spun inaccurately and what we were fighting for in terms of the court struggle was not being reported by the press.
The press made this an internal fight about personalities, politics, positions and power and that never was what the fight was about. It was about governing according to laws and the constitution of the organization.
Voice: In light of what has happened with the SCLC over the past few years, some people believe the organization has outlived its usefulness. How do you view the organization in the 21st century?
Creecy: I often wonder how could that assertion be made by any credible thinker when, in reality, in many ways, statistically and demographically, as a people, we are worse off than we were 40 years ago.
There are more homeless and hungry African Americans living on the streets or on the verge of being put into the streets today than there were in 1960. Why is that question always raised specifically in the Black community about Black organizations and institutions? No one is raising that question about the JDL or the ADL or the American Irish Catholic Society or the Italian American Society.
Voice: So, what are some of your plans to clear up the false notion that SCLC is not relevant?
Creecy: The time is right for a new generation of leadership to emerge. I’m not the new generation of leadership. I’m the bridge between the past and the future.
The first thing we have to do is re-brand ourselves and separate ourselves from our conflictual contemporary history. We want people to know that we are SCLC Today.
To some, SCLC is considered a museum of the movement. SCLC Today must be a movement. TODAY stands for Transforming Our Destiny through Activism and Youth.
The first thing we will do is rebuild our credibility, our visibility and our viability. SCLC has to return to its chapters and to its churches. We must restore our historical relationship with labor and with students. That was our base.
We were always the direct social action arm of the civil rights movement. We got our army out of the church, from college campuses, and then somebody told us that the movement had transitioned from the streets to the suites. And though enough there are one or two of us (African Americans) in the corporate suites, but we had no strength in the suites because we had no presence in the streets.
We didn’t understand the connectivity between the two and by not understanding that, we lost all of our strength to make anything happen. We have been celebrating marches and victories that are 40 years old. Someone took us from labor to celebration as if victory had been won.
Voice: Is the organization currently in good financial shape?
Creecy: America is not in good financial shape. The federal government is running historical deficits. Every nonprofit in America is struggling to get the kind of support to sustain itself. We, like every nonprofit in America, are caught in the crisis of this unprecedented recession. Of course, that’s if you live in Buckhead. If you live on my side of I-20, it’s a depression.
Voice: Identify one new initiative that you are excited about.
Creecy: We have this program called On the Yard. We are reaching out to 100 to 150 SGA presidents on college campuses, starting with Historical Black Colleges and Universities. We will bring them to Atlanta to do a roundtable and workshop on some of the issues of the 21st century.
We are re-engaging and re-empowering them to think about how they will move us beyond equality to equity. We achieved equality, but we never got equity. From there, we hope to have 150 new student chapters on college campuses.