In a move to head off a potential rift within the troubled Southern Christian Leadership Conference, delegates to SCLC's here selected Atlanta minister Dr. Joseph E. Lowery as their new president today and chose his main rival for the post of executive director.
More than 100 voting delegates, gathered in Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, approved a compromise slate of officers put forward by a nominating committee headed by Rep. Walter Fauntroy (D-D.C.). Included in the slate was Georgia state Reps. Hosea Williams, who was named a executive director, a post once held by Andrew Young, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Williams, an outspoken militant who heads SCLC's Atlanta chapter, will be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the 20-year-old civil rights organization which had been the power base of its founder, the late Martin Luther King Jr. Williams' position is one from which he can be removed by Lowery.
The slate represented a compromise hammered out after hours of negotiations which included an all-night session that ended at 7 a.m. today. Williams, who had accused SCLC's leadership of moving away from its traditionally activist role, and threatened to quit the organization if he was not given the post of the "chief administrative officer."
It was not immediately clear how the selection of Williams as executive director would affect the political direaction of the SCLC. The organization, once one of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement, has become relatively stagnant since the death of its founder in 1968.
Although both the leadership and SCLC's staff say the organization is not in debt, they say it has virtually no money and cannot support any large-scale programs.
"Donations have trickled," said staff members Dana Swain. "The people who used to send the $100 bills don't any more. But those who send the $5 bills still do. It's been eight years of hard times."
"We are a victim of success," said the Rev. Andrew J. Brown, and SCLC board member. "Most of our leaders have gone on to other things."
Among those leaders Brown mentioned were Young and Fauntroy.
The organization has also been plagued by internal divisions between those who want to take a more sedate approach and appeal to the nation's black middle class, and those who favor a more activist role, including street demonstrations.
However, in his acceptance speech, Lowery brushed aside reports of dissent, declaring," at no time in our history have we all agreed on anything except that liberty and equality are our goals."
Lowery also criticized President Carter, accusing him of foresaking the black voters the civil rights leader said were responsible for the President's election.
"He (Carter) has done some good things, but not good enough. He's done some right things, but not right enough. He's moved in the right direction, but the pace is too slow," Lowery said.
Lowery called on the delegates to increase pressure on the administration in order to force it to move vigorously in the area of black unemployment.
"We are going to telegraph you (Carter), telephone you and televise you," Lowery shouted from the pulpit, "and if that don't work, maybe the tramp, tramp, tramp of our feet will reach you."
The convention is scheduled toend Friday with adoption of resolutions.