DionRabouin.com (sort of)

SCLC Activists want [former president] Farris Reinstated

Posted in Articles by dionrabouin on June 15, 2012

(Written for The Atlanta Voice)

ATLANTA – A coalition of Southern Christian Leadership Conference activists filed a petition against their parent organization this week demanding the resignation of the board’s chair and vice-chair and the reinstatement of former president Isaac Farris.

During a news conference at Ebenezer Baptist Church, coalition members said they distributed a four-page letter to SCLC board members demanding that the organization’s bylaws be amended, that Farris be reinstated and that board chairman Bernard Lafayette Jr. and vice-chairman Donald Cash resign.

In the letter, the coalition says the national office makes decisions unilaterally and is dishonest about its struggle with finances – a claim SCLC executives deny. It also alleges mismanagement by members of the SCLC board, acting executive director Damien Conners, and interim president C.T. Vivian.

Rev. Keith Johnson, listed by the coalition as president of the SCLC-Athens chapter, said a major overhaul of the board is warranted.

“I want the board gone,” Johnson said. “The total board should have been removed in 2009-2010. You can’t dig out part of an ingrown toenail and leave the part that’s infected and say that you’ve healed; and that’s what we’ve done.”

In all, the letter lists 10 demands over board operations and governance that coalition members said, if implemented, would “restore the integrity, vibrancy, soundness, and mission of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”

Farris, attending the news conference flanked by SCLC activists, told reporters he represented a contingent that’s looking to make sweeping changes to the SCLC.

The nephew of SCLC co-founder Martin Luther King Jr., Farris was ousted from the organization in April and says he was never given a reason. He insisted the news conference was not about him and said he was there only to support the goals and wishes of the coalition.

“At first I told them, ‘Look, this is what happened; in God it will be OK,” Farris said. “But they kept coming back and they kept opening my eyes to some stuff that I was not aware of. And so if I can help them to liberate, I will do that.”

Conners, however, called the idea that the board would dismiss Farris without cause “illogical.”

“If it were the case that that happened, of course that’s grounds to seek legal recourse,” Conners said. “And in this instance, we don’t see that. We see something like a campaign of people who we don’t have record of as members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”

SCLC spokesman Maynard Eaton also said the coalition’s claims “are baseless and have no legitimacy.”

“There is no issue,” Eaton said. “It’s talk and has no credibility.”

SCLC staff members who asked to remain anonymous told The Atlanta Voice that Farris was ousted because he took on too many obscure and non-civil rights projects and refused input from the board and staff.

“He told us, [outside the boardroom] it may be a democracy, but [inside the boardroom] this is a dictatorship,” one staffer said.

The coalition plans to meet soon to determine whether to ask a judge to intervene.

SCLC was founded in 1957 by a coalition of civil rights leaders, with the goal of ending segregation and racial discrimination through nonviolent direct action. But its reputation has been tarnished in recent years by board infighting and accusations of mismanagement of finances, which split the group into two factions.

In 2010, federal and local authorities launched an investigation into allegations that SCLC’s chairman and treasurer mismanaged at least $569,000 of the group’s money. The dispute split longtime colleagues – some with friendships dating back to the civil rights era – and exposed severe gaps in SCLC’s governance.

Authorities later found the accusations were unsubstantiated.

Later in 2010, a glimmer of hope arose when Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., was elected as the group’s first female president. It was quickly doused when she declined to take office, citing conflicts with the board.

Trina Baynes, chapter president for SCLC in Henry County, said the current conflict is not an attempt to further erode the organization’s reputation. Instead, she said, it is an effort to restore it, she said.

“We do not reject authority or guidance. What we do reject is destruction of this organization whether it is from a body inside or outside,” Baynes said. “There is obviously a conflict with the board and its mission and we [need] to set it right.”

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