ATLANTA – The Rev. Bernice King delivered an impassioned plea Friday to the fractured membership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to come together after months of bitter infighting that have pushed the famed civil rights organization to the brink of extinction.
“Tonight, through prayer, we seek to destroy the work of the enemy,” King said from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., preached from 1960 until his death in 1968.
Although she was elected president of the SCLC in October, the younger King has held back from taking control of the group amid the bickering and an ongoing legal dispute. On Friday, the slain civil rights leader's youngest daughter said she still hopes to lead a unified SCLC, which her father co-founded in 1957. She spoke to an audience of about 200 that came to pray for healing and reconciliation.
King lamented the events of the past several months, noting that “there was a unified SCLC under the banner of one board” when she was elected nearly a year ago. On Friday, the SCLC was preparing to hold two separate conventions in Atlanta for the first time in its 53-year history.
“This is an unfortunate turn of events,” she said, adding that she had attempted to reach out to board members.
Attendees at the prayer vigil – which was also broadcast online – represented a mix of King’s civil rights roots and her ties to the prosperity gospel. King is an ordained minister and preaches at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, a megachurch outside of Atlanta that boasted 25,000-members in 2009.
Pastor Eddie Long of New Birth attended Friday night's vigil, telling King she had been chosen to finish the journey her parents began more than four decades ago.
“For over 40 years, we've been trying as a people, since her father departed, to get somewhere,” Long said. “God has called you to drive. He has called you to take us there. You'll finish the unfinished business in your bloodline.”
Others delivering remarks were Pastor Paula White of Without Walls International Church of Tampa, Fla., and the Rev. Dale Bronner of Word of Faith Family Worship Cathedral.
Also on hand were several members of King’s family, including her brother, King Center President and SCLC board member Martin Luther King III, and chapter leaders from around the state and country.
King’s head was bowed, her eyes closed and hands raised skyward during a parade of prayers nearly two hours long. It included songs and blessings for the president-elect and the SCLC.
Longtime SCLC member Rev. Timothy McDonald of First Iconium Baptist Church prayed for forgiveness and compassion among members of the board.
“Because of sin, because of egos, because of selfishness ... there is now division among our ranks,” said McDonald, whose church touts a social justice agenda. “If ever there was a time when we needed a unified SCLC, now is this time. We pray for every board member. We know that these board members want to uphold the dream and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
The Rev. Fred Taylor, who joined the civil rights movement as a teenager, called for healing in the organization to continue to do the work of King, the SCLC's founding president.
“The SCLC family must become cognizant of the fact that Dr. King said very early on in his career that he wanted to do the will of God,” Taylor said.
The meeting concluded with King calling for all SCLC current and former board members in attendance to come to the altar, link arms and sing the civil rights salvo, “We Shall Overcome.” She likened the SCLC’s rift to the public split between her and her brothers and vowed healing.
“We are a family,” she said. “In family sometimes, there are disagreements. But my brothers and I are still family. This is just the beginning. I’m still the president-elect, but I shall be president of this great organization.”
It was not clear Friday whether King would attend either of the SCLC conventions. The first begins Saturday and the rival convention starts Aug. 13.
The Rev. Dwight Graves, chairman of next weekend’s convention and president of the SCLC’s Cobb County chapter, invited her to attend the event after the prayer vigil, where a reconciliation rally is also planned.
“I hope it works for the good,” he said of the vigil. “That’s my prayer.”