Civil and Political Rights

Why was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference established?

The first organization to coordinate the work of nonviolent groups devoted to racial integration and improved life for black Americans was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), established on February 14, 1957. Known in the Civil Rights Movement for its nonviolent and direct action, the SCLC grew out of the 1955–1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott. As the bus boycott sparked a chain of protests across the South, it became apparent to Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Bayard Rustin, and others that there was a need for a central coordinating body for these boycotts. Thus, from January 10 through 11, 1957, sixty disparate regional groups from ten states met in Atlanta and formed the Southern Leadership Conference on Transportation and Non-Violent Integration. Its initial objectives were to use nonviolent tactics and appeal to the moral conscience of America. Participants asserted at their meeting that civil rights are a basic part of democracy, that segregation should end, and that it was incumbent upon all black people to oppose segregation. The media’s coverage of the SCLC’s campaigns and its voter registration endeavors served to move the nation toward the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was involved in organizing the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.


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