Nearly half of the board of directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference voted Saturday to oust two top officials who are under investigation for allegations of financial mismanagement.
The ousted chairman, Rev. Raleigh Trammell of Ohio, and treasurer, Spiver Gordon of Alabama, face state, federal and internal investigations that some board members say weakened their effectiveness as leaders and jeopardizes the SCLC. Last month, 23 board members called for the men to step down from the civil rights organization, which was co-founded by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957. They refused.
Of the board's 44 members, 19 met for four hours on Saturday before voting unanimously to remove the two from their positions.
The Rev. James Bush was also voted out as interim president.
Bernard LaFayette, who worked alongside King during the civil rights movement, said the decision marked a new but difficult beginning for SCLC.
"You have friends that you make over the years, and SCLC is a family in a real sense," said LaFayette, who was among the board members who voted on Saturday. "We love the people, but we cannot accept this kind of behavior and what it's doing to our organization."
A letter dated Saturday listing the names of several SCLC members — including the three ousted men —called the board meeting a coup designed to undermine the SCLC.
"The hastily called gathering clearly violates SCLC's Constitution and By-Laws and is therefore unethical as well as illegal, serving only to further jeopardize the solvency of the organization as any actions taken are void of merit and authority," the letter reads. "Those calling themselves 'official' representatives of the SCLC will enter their meeting place 'unofficially' and will depart just the same."
The Rev. Sylvia Tucker, who was voted in to replace Trammell as chairman, said Saturday she was erroneously listed as a supporter on the letter opposing the meeting. Tucker herself attended the meeting and voted to oust the others.
"I knew nothing about that," Tucker said. "I didn't give permission for my name to be on anything. Leadership has to be an example. (Trammell and Gordon's actions) bring a cloud to one of the greatest organizations in the world."
Trammell and Gordon are accused of diverting about $569,000 of SCLC funds to bank accounts they controlled to cover expenses ranging from credit card to insurance bills without board approval. They have denied the accusation and Trammell has fought to retain control of the group. Trammell and Gordon could not be immediately reached for comment Saturday.
A court order Feb. 8 cut off Gordon's access to SCLC funds. On Feb. 11, the FBI raided the SCLC's Dayton office and the Ohio homes of Trammell and his daughter. The FBI did not say what it was looking for and no charges have been announced.
The split factions have been entangled in a legal battle for months. Charles Mathis, an attorney who represents the board of directors, said Saturday that the board meeting was legal under its constitution and that a superior court judge earlier this week had cleared the way for the board to take action and remove Trammell and Gordon.
Randall Gaines of Louisiana was named Treasurer. The Rev. Bernice King was elected president in October, but it is unclear when she will take office.
"As soon as we clear the deck, we will be ready for her to come aboard," LaFayette said Saturday.
Board members also voted to hold their next board meeting in Atlanta on April 19 and April 20. They had expected to install Bernice King as the new president by then. But Saturday, some board members said they were no longer sure when that would happen.
On the Net:
Southern Christian Leadership Conference: http://www.sclcnational.org
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