CIVIL rights leaders rally around Martin Luther King III amid SCLC dispute

Monday, August 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ Many of the nation's top civil rights leaders are rallying around Martin Luther King III as questions swirl around his leadership of the organization founded by his famous father.

Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young was among leaders standing with King on Sunday night as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference opened its national convention.

``I am impressed with him,'' Young said. ``I think he can deliver with the support of all of us. He has my support. He has since he was 6 years old.''

Moments earlier, the embattled SCLC president addressed the convention, telling the crowd of about 700 that he knows he's not his father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

``I don't have my father's melodious voice,'' he said. ``God only gave South Africa one Mandela. God only gave the United States one Martin Luther King.''

``God has seen fit to give me just a flicker of the flame. I'm going to let it shine,'' said King, 43, as members of the audience waved ``We love you Martin'' signs.

The convention gave King an opportunity to fight off dissenters in the SCLC, who have reportedly called him an absent, ineffective leader. Board Chairman Claud Young sent King a letter in May criticizing King's inability to raise money, lack of communication, unexplained stints away from the Atlanta office and failure to set a clear agenda for the organization, according to published reports.

Young has since said that the matter has been resolved, and promised to support the SCLC's leadership during a brief speech Sunday night.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and King's mother, Coretta Scott King, were among the many key civil rights figures offering the SCLC president their support.

``The press is floating around here like buzzards looking for a funeral. We come here looking for the future,'' Jackson said.

Jackson said he hopes the controversy over SCLC leadership will attract more attention to the convention and the SCLC's social agenda.

Former conference President Joseph Lowrey also attended the opening night of the meeting.

``I've come to sit beside my successor tonight to assure him that he has my support,'' Lowrey said.

King told the delegates he is committed to continuing the work started by his father, who founded the group following the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the 1950s.

``I know the recent challenges have been grave, but we are not going to let anyone turn us around,'' King said. ``While we are busy waging minor fights inside, major fights go on outside.''

King promised the SCLC would fight many ills facing blacks and poor Americans including crime, homelessness, hunger and inadequate education.

The national convention, which runs through Wednesday, was expected to include a celebration of enactment of the Voting Rights Act and workshops on issues such as voter registration, racial profiling and reparations for slavery.

Georgia state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, a former field director for the SCLC, said he expects the convention to rally around King. He said if there is unhappiness among delegates it is more likely to be with Claud Young, for making an internal dispute public.

He also said there may be a silver lining in the infighting.

``This may be a blessing in disguise,'' Brooks said. ``It will force the SCLC to take a hard look at itself.''