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Civil rights dean Lowery says SCLC is "off track"

Associated Press | 7/13/2010, 8:29 p.m.

ATLANTA - One of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said he is saddened by the infighting and legal wrangling among dueling factions of the civil rights group and doesn't know how much longer they can exist.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery said the SCLC cannot afford to be distracted by bickering, which takes time away from the group’s mission of addressing social issues such as war, poverty and racism.

“Those in a position of leadership have let the organization drift,” he said. “It’s contrary to everything we stood for. We set out to help the world solve its problems in the context of the common good, and here we are setting a poor example.”

The SCLC has for months been embroiled in a dispute centered on its chairman and treasurer, who are facing federal and state investigations into allegations of financial mismanagement. Members of its board of directors chose sides over the issue, and both sides have continued to operate as the SCLC’s leadership.

The fight has effectively sidelined the SCLC from any of its social justice work and has also paralyzed its daily operations. The Rev. Bernice King, a daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. who was elected president of the group in October, has not yet taken office and has distanced herself from the ongoing feud.

Unable to come to a resolution, the group asked a judge to decide who is in control of SCLC. The judge is still considering the matter after a month-long hearing that ended last week.

Lowery said he does not think the SCLC can continue to exist in its current state - and doesn’t know whether it should.

“What’s happening now will destroy the organization,” he said. “SCLC cannot afford to let its energies be consumed in such foolishness. If it’s going to continue on this path, it’s already come to an end.”

He said both sides are wrong because they have not been able to work out their differences in the peaceful and nonviolent way that is the cornerstone of the organization. Lowery, who was the SCLC’s longest-serving president, said the current leaders are “off track.”

“They need to come to the table, put aside their personal differences for the good of the organization and the good of the country,” Lowery said. “As it is now, they are not serving any good purpose.”

Associated Press