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Southern Christian Leadership Conference records

Identifier: Manuscript Collection No. 1083

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of the records of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) from 1957-2007 (bulk 1968-2003), including records from various offices and departments; files of various programs; financial and legal records; printed material; photographs; audiovisual materials; and artifacts and memorabilia. Material in the collection documents the nonviolent direct action initiatives of the organization, including boycotts, marches, rallies, protests, hearings, and other programs designed to secure and protect civil rights in America. The records reflect not only the day to day administration of the organization, but also the planning and management of special programming and events, and the involvement of individual leaders in the wider religious, political, and civil rights communities.

The records of the Office of the President primarily span the tenures of the second and third presidents of SCLC, Ralph David Abernathy (1968-1977) and Joseph E. Lowery (1977-1997), with minimal material from former presidents Martin Luther King, Jr. (1957-1968) and Martin Luther King, III (1998-2004). The collection does not contain records from any other presidents. Also included in the collection are records from various offices and departments, including the Office of the Executive Vice President; the Office of the Executive Director and National Administrator; the Department of Chapters and Affiliates; the Department of Communications; the Department of Direct Action; the Crisis Intervention Committee; the Department of Student Affairs; and the Programs Department. These materials reveal SCLC's major activities from the 1970s through the 2000s, including publishing and public relations; national conventions; interactions with local chapters and membership; engagement of youth in the Civil Rights Movement; various marches and rallies throughout America; and major programs such as the Citizenship Education Program, Poor People's Campaign, Operation Breadbasket, the Ministers Leadership Training Program, the Alabama Tri-County Project, the Crisis in Health Care for Black and Poor Americans hearings, the Wings of Hope Anti-drug Program, and the Stop the Killing, End the Violence campaign.

The records of the Martin Luther King Speaks radio program feature transcripts of speeches and interviews with major figures of the Civil Rights Movement, Women's Movement, Student Movement, and artistic community. The records of the Southern Christian Leadership Foundation (SCLF), a separate nonprofit organization founded in 1966 to raise money for SCLC, are also included in the collection. In conjunction with the SCLC's own financial records, they reveal much about the organization's fiscal life, including both donations to SCLC and SCLF's own charitable work. Legal records document the work of SCLC's in house attorneys in relation to various court cases involving the organization.

Printed material (including fliers, posters, pamphlets and brochures), photographs, artifacts and memorabilia visually document the work of SCLC in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including major people, programs and initiatives of the organization, as well as lesser known staff and activities. Audiovisual materials include both sound and video recordings of major SCLC events, as well as speeches of many SCLC leaders.

Throughout the collection, the term "office files" has been used to denote a combination of administrative files and subject files created and maintained by the employees of an office or department. Additionally, because most employees of SCLC were involved in the planning of events, files relating to SCLC programming and initiatives can be found in virtually all series. See also references have been provided only to series that contain significant amounts of material about particular topics and may not reflect the locations of every record relating to a single subject.


  • 1864-2012
  • Majority of material found within [ 1968-2003]

Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Restrictions on Access

Special restrictions apply: Portions of this collection are stored off site: Subseries 14.2-14.5. Researchers must contact the Rose Library in advance to access these materials.

Subseries 2.4: President Martin Luther King, III files. Legal records relating to court cases are closed for 25 years from the date of their creation, with the exception of briefs and motions filed with the court.

Subseries 7.2: Department of Direct Action office files. Legal records relating to court cases are closed for 25 years from the date of their creation, with the exception of briefs and motions filed with the court.

Subseries 8.2: Case files and requests for assistance are closed to researchers until January 1, 2087.

Series 13: Personnel records are closed to researchers until 2079.

Series 14: Financial records are closed to researchers for 25 years from the date of their creation. In cases where ledgers contain records for multiple years, they are closed for 25 years from the date of the latest record.

Subseries 14.5: Payroll records are closed to researchers until 2075.

Subseries 15.3: Southern Christian Leadership Foundation financial records are closed to researchers for 25 years from the date of their creation. Payroll records are closed to researchers until 2066.

Series 16: Legal records relating to court cases are closed for 25 years from the date of their creation, with the exception of briefs and motions filed with the court.

Series 21: Access to processed born digital materials is only available in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (the Rose Library). Use of the original digital media is restricted.

Series 22: Unprocessed additions are closed to researchers.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.

Historical Note

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was founded in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1957 in the wake of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The organization was originally named the Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration, and its initial mission was to integrate transportation systems throughout the south. However, the organization quickly broadened its scope to include ending all forms of segregation and achieving social justice for the disenfranchised. Under the leadership of its first president, Martin Luther King, Jr., the SCLC was a major force in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and an integral player in iconic events such as the March on Washington (1963) and voter registration efforts in Mississippi and Alabama.

Following King's assassination on April 4, 1968, Ralph David Abernathy became president of the organization. His first act as president was to finish planning the Poor People's Campaign, an initiative begun under King's leadership. A year later, Abernathy increased the organization's focus on issues of labor and poverty, spearheading SCLC's support of the Drug and Hospital Workers Union Local 1199B strike in Charleston, South Carolina. During the 1970s, the organization struggled financially but was able to focus attention on such issues as Angela Davis's arrest and trial and the Attica prison uprisings. It was also during this period that SCLC founded the Viet-American Children's Program, dedicated to aiding American families interested in adopting mixed race orphans from Vietnam.

Following Abernathy's resignation in 1977, long-time Chairman of the Board of Directors and founding member Joseph E. Lowery was elected president. Lowery drastically increased SCLC's involvement in issues of foreign policy, health and welfare, violence and drug abuse, and also renewed the organization's focus on traditional issues such as voting rights and economic justice. He led the organization through successful boycotts of companies that did business with South Africa in the 1980s; negotiated economic covenants with national corporations wherein they committed to hiring more African American employees; spearheaded initiatives to decrease gun violence and drug abuse in the African American community; and promoted the importance of access to health care in poor communities. Lowery retired in 1997.

In the early 2000s, SCLC was led by presidents Martin Luther King, III, Fred Shuttlesworth and Charles Kenzie Steele, Jr. Other prominent figures involved with the organization include Andrew Young, Septima Clark, Stoney Cooks, Dorothy Cotton, Carl Farris, Jesse Jackson, Bernard Lee, Jack O'Dell, C.T. Vivian, and Hosea Williams.


885.75 linear feet (1312 boxes) (7 oversized papers boxes and 12 oversized papers folders(OP); 5 extra oversized papers folders (XOP); 194 oversized bound volumes (OBV); A/V Masters: 28 linear feet (28 boxes); 4.91 MB born digital material (88 files))


Records of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, American Civil Rights organization, including files from various offices, departments and programs, printed material, photographs, audiovisual material, born digital material, artifacts and memorabilia.

Arrangement Note

Organized into 21 series: (1) Board of Directors records, (2) Office of the President records, (3) Office of the Executive Vice President records, (4) Office of the Executive Director and National Administrator records, (5) Department of Chapters and Affiliates records, (6) Department of Communications records, (7) Department of Direct Action records, (8) Crisis Intervention Committee records, (9) Department of Student Affairs records, (10) Programs Department records, (11) Martin Luther King Speaks records, (12) Other department records, (13) Personnel records, (14) Financial records, (15) Southern Christian Leadership Foundation records, (16) Legal records, (17) Printed material, (18) Photographs, (19) Audiovisual, (20) Artifacts and memorabilia, and (21) Born digital materials.


Purchase, 2007 with subsequent addtions.

Related Materials in Other Repositories

Southern Christian Leadership Conference records, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change Library and Archives and Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. collection, Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center.


File name: sclc1083.doc


Processed by Sarah Quigley, Ryan Taylor, Chanel Craft, Gianluca DeFazio, Michael Hall, Rebecca Sherman, Brenda Tindal and Danica Tisdale, 2009-2012.

Born digital materials processed, arranged, and described by Brenna Edwards, 2020. Born digital materials include files taken from 31 5.25" floppy disks and 103 3.5" floppy disks. For information as to how these materials were processed, see the processing note in the description of series 21, Born digital material.

File name: sclc1083.doc

This finding aid may include language that is offensive or harmful. Please refer to the Rose Library's harmful language statement for more information about why such language may appear and ongoing efforts to remediate racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, euphemistic and other oppressive language. If you are concerned about language used in this finding aid, please contact us at

Southern Christian Leadership Conference records, 1864-2007 [bulk 1968-2003]
Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
April 26, 2012
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • November 24, 2014: Restricted container lists in Series 2.3, 2.4, 7.2, 14.1, 14.2, 14.3, 14.4, 15.3, and 16.1 identified in finding aid. Restricted container lists in Series 14.5 redacted in finding aid.
  • May 25, 2017: Redacted missing boxes 689 and OBV2 to make them unrequestable

Repository Details

Part of the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library Repository

540 Asbury Circle
Atlanta Georgia 30322 United States