By Errin Haines
ATLANTA–Several board members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are calling for the resignation of the group’s embattled chairman and treasurer, who are being investigated over allegations of financial mismanagement.
After a three-hour meeting last Saturday, the group announced that a majority of “concerned board members” are calling for Chairman Raleigh Trammell and Treasurer Spiver Gordon to leave office. Meanwhile, the group has hired an attorney to pursue legal means to remove the men from the executive board if they do not step aside.
Spokesman and SCLC veteran Bernard LaFayette said the organization’s woes were a distraction from issues like high minority incarceration rates, education disparities and voting rights and is threatening the group’s future.
“We feel that we can no longer be silent,” LaFayette said. “We’ve been working quietly, but we want to make it clear publicly … that SCLC is very much alive.”
Organizers stressed that the gathering, which included 18 members of the national board of directors, was not an official board meeting. LaFayette said 23 people have signed on to the resolution calling for the resignations of Trammell and Gordon.
The full board of directors is scheduled to meet April 19 to April 21.
Last saturday’s meeting came on the heels of a Dayton, Ohio, caucus, where executive board members pledged their support for Trammell and Gordon, and on the eve of the 45th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a watershed moment in the civil rights movement.
Trammell and Gordon are facing state, federal and internal investigations that LaFayette said are weakening their effectiveness as leaders. He said the men would have a couple of weeks to respond to their request.
“This is a last appeal as members of the board to that leadership,” LaFayette said. “We are not trying to judge them as individuals.”
The group convened over the objection of members of the executive board, who derided the meeting as unconstitutional and unsanctioned by the national organization.
“It is unfortunate that false reports are being circulating regarding a meeting of our national board,” said the Rev. James Bush, listed as recording secretary and acting president in a news release issued last Friday.
With the group in chaos, it is unclear who is in control.
The Rev. Bernice King was elected president in October, but has not taken office or weighed in on the organization’s crisis. The Rev. Byron Clay of Louisiana served a one-year term as interim president that ended last month.
LaFayette said last Saturday that King would be installed as president by the April board meeting and after the group’s legal woes are settled.
The SCLC was co-founded by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and marked its 53rd anniversary on Valentine’s Day. Bernice King, would be the second of his children to lead the organization. Her brother, Martin Luther King III, was president from 1998 to 2003.
Martin Luther King III is a current SCLC board member and one of the attendees at the Saturday meeting. He stood in support of the decision to remove the chairman and treasurer “to move the organization forward.”
Trammell and Gordon have both have denied wrongdoing. The SCLC announced an internal investigation into the matter in December and some on the group’s board of directors attempted to oust Trammell and Gordon last fall, accusing them of diverting about $569,000 of SCLC funds to bank accounts they controlled to cover expenses ranging from credit card to insurance bills without board approval.
After a faction of SCLC members sought an injunction in Fulton County Superior Court, a judge reinstated both men in January.
The group had more setbacks last month. A court order Feb. 8 cut off Gordon’s access to SCLC funds. On Feb. 11, the FBI raided the SCLC’s Dayton office and the homes of Trammell and his daughter.
A letter dated Feb. 11 and addressed to “fellow board members” on SCLC letterhead called for an “emergency board meeting” on March 6 to move for the removal of Trammell and Gordon pending the outcome of the investigations. The letter was unsigned but cited the 20 people as board members who called for the emergency meeting.
Bush said many of the SCLC’s board, staff and volunteers would be in Selma, Ala., this weekend to mark the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” and LaFayette said many members of the group gathered last Saturday would also head there to mark the milestone.
Prompted by a fatal shooting, civil rights activists in Alabama set out on a Selma-to-Montgomery march, which was turned back at Selma by club-wielding troopers and deputies in what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” A later march, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., made it all the way to the Alabama Capitol and led Congress to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which allowed millions of Southern blacks to register to vote and ended all-white rule.