King's daughter elected rights group leader

King's daughter elected rights group leader

 
Now Bernice King, the youngest child of Martin Luther King, has a new mission: to revitalise the civil rights organisation co-founded by her father as the first woman to lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

In recent years, the SCLC, born as an America-wide grassroots movement at the vanguard of a struggle against racial segregation, has been damaged by infighting and directional drift.

Now the group, which today is a sprawling church-based network of 10,000 members in 17 US states, has turned to King’s daughter to resurrect it. Bernice King’s election at the weekend, which made her its first female leader, came just weeks after the resolution of a bitter squabble between King’s offspring over management of their father’s estate that led to a public legal battle pitting Bernice and her brother, Martin Luther King III, against a third sibling, Dexter King.

Speaking in a room at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her father celebrated his last birthday before his 1968 assassination, King promised to use her family legacy to energise a new generation’s non-violent battle for social justice and to increase the involvement of women.

“I stand before you as a daughter of the civil rights movement calling forth the daughters and sons of the next generation of social change,” said King, who pledged to build a bridge between the veteran black activists of the 1960s and the hip-hop generation of the present day. “I am a King, yet I am mindful that I am not the only one.”

Established in the racial storm that followed Rosa Parks’s arrest in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the SCLC was shaped by Martin Luther King as a peaceful campaign for voting rights, housing fairness and opposition to the Vietnam war.

But critics say its mission has become blurred in recent years and divisions have emerged, in particular over its sceptical approach to gay rights. Among the potential flashpoints for King will be the debate on same-sex marriage. The president of the SCLC’s Los Angeles branch was almost fired last year in a clash with the leadership over his support for gay marriage. King opposes it and has implied that her father would have too. Emerging as the most prominent of King’s surviving children, she is a minister at a Georgia church and tours as a motivational speaker.

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