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President of Beleaguered Civil Rights Group Resigns

Associated Press
Friday, November 12, 2004; Page A10

ATLANTA, Nov. 11 -- The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights group that helped lead the fight against segregation, is beset by financial turmoil and infighting that led to the resignation this week of its president, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.

Shuttlesworth, 82, stepped down Wednesday from the organization, which he and other black preachers helped found along with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957.

"For years, deceit, mistrust and a lack of spiritual discipline and truth have eaten away at the core of this once-hallowed organization," he said in his resignation letter.

The resignation came after the SCLC board suspended Shuttlesworth last week for undisclosed reasons. It follows last year's resignation of the previous president, Martin Luther King III, and a convention over the summer that erupted in shouting matches so fierce that police had to be called to keep the peace.

The SCLC board, holding a leadership retreat Thursday, insisted the organization still has the ability to pursue King's ideals.

"The spirit of Dr. King and others remains today -- that can't go overlooked," said Executive Vice President Charles Steele, who is expected to be named the group's interim president Friday. "We have an obligation to make this organization prevalent and relevant. The world needs SCLC."

Once supported by tens of thousands of members, the SCLC now has fewer than 3,000, Sherri Chance, the former SCLC director of chapters and affiliates, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Of the 58 chapters, only 10 paid dues to the national organization.

The SCLC owes $43,000 in state and federal taxes, although the Internal Revenue Service has agreed to forgive more than $69,000 in fines and penalties, according to the newspaper.

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