It is in ‘HIS OWN WORDS’— ‘The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.’ that Dr. King makes historical note of the circumstances surrounding the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and his election as founding president.
“On January 9, 1957, Ralph Abernathy and I went to Atlanta to prepare for a meeting of Negro leaders that I had called for the following day. In the middle of the night we were awakened by a telephone call from Ralph̓s wife, Juanita. I knew that only some new disaster would make her rouse us at two in the morning. When Ralph came back, his sober face told part of the story. “My home has been bombed,” he said, “and three or four other explosions have been heard in the city, but Juanita doesn̓t know where yet.” I asked about Juanita and their daughter. “Thank God, they are safe.” Before we could talk any more, the telephone rang a second time. It was Juanita again, saying that the First Baptist Church had been hit. Ralph̓s home and his church had been bombed in one night. I knew no words to comfort him. There in the early morning hours we prayed to God together, asking for the power of endurance, the strength to carry on.
Ralph and I arranged to fly back, leaving the meeting of Southern leaders to begin without us. From the Montgomery airport we drove directly to Ralph̓s house. The street was roped off, and hundreds of people stood staring at the ruins. The front porch had been almost completely destroyed, and things inside the house were scattered from top to bottom. Juanita, though shocked and pale, was fairly composed.
The rest of the morning was spent in a grim tour of the other bombings. The Bell Street and Mt. Olive Baptist churches had been almost completely destroyed. The other two churches were less severely damaged, but nevertheless faced great losses.
That afternoon, I returned to Atlanta to make at least an appearance at the meeting of Negro leaders. There I found an enthusiastic group of almost a hundred men from all over the South, committed to the idea of a Southern movement to implement the Supreme Court̓s decision against bus segregation through nonviolent means. We wired President Dwight D. Eisenhower, asking him to come south immediately, to make a major speech in a major Southern city urging all Southerners to accept and to abide by the Supreme Court̓s decisions as the law of the land. We further urged him to use the weight of his great office to point out to the South the moral nature of the problems posed at home and abroad by the unsolved civil rights issue. Before adjourning they voted to form the Southern Leaders Conference (later the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or SCLC), a permanent organization to facilitate coordinated action of local protest groups. I became the group’s president, a position I still hold.”
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