SCLC Leadership Reflects on Martin Luther King, Jr.

H. Michael Harvey, JD
5 min readJan 15, 2022

The Civil Rights Leader Would Be 93 Years Old This Year

Dr. Bernard LaFayette Chair of the SCLC Board with Rev. C. T. Vivian discussing the future of SCLC with reporter Blaine Alexander. ©2012 Cascade Publishing House

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the pre-eminent civil rights advocate of the 20th century, was gunned down by an assassin 39 years into his extraordinary life. This January 15, 2022, Dr. King would have been 93 years old. This year, the two men charged with pursuing King’s mission for justice and economic parity for all, but primarily, Black Americans paused to reflect on the life and times of the “Dreamer.”

Dr. Bernard LaFayette, the long-time Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Dr. Charles Steele, Jr., the President and Chief Executive Officer, who has served longer than any other person employed in this capacity by the organization, paid homage to the chief architect of civil rights advancements in the last century.

Dr. LaFayette has two fond memories of Dr. King. The first memory occurred on Dr. King’s 39th and last birthday, January 15, 1968.

“Dr. King worked all the time. He did not pay much attention to birthdays or holidays; every day was a workday for us. On his birthday in 1968, King was conducting an SCLC strategy session at Ebenezer Baptist Church. We were making plans for the Poor People’s Campaign,” said LaFayette, who was, SCLC’s National Program Administrator, at the time.

“We had gotten a cake for him, so at the end of the meeting, we gathered around the cake to sing happy birthday to Dr. King. An old deacon of the church was there to lock up the church when we left. We asked the deacon to lead us in singing happy birthday to Dr. King,” LaFayette recalled.

“But the deacon didn’t just sing happy birthday like we were accustomed to singing it. The deacon did what we call ‘raise a hymn in the church.’ The deacon used the long meter form, and we all joined in and followed his long meter rendition of happy birthday. Dr. King left that meeting joyful with a smile on his face,” LaFayette remembered.

Dr. LaFayette’s second fond memory occurred on April 3, 1968.

“About three months after his birthday, we were at the SCLC headquarters on Auburn Avenue discussing the upcoming Poor People’s Campaign. Dr. King received a telephone call from “Jim”…

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H. Michael Harvey, JD

Harvey is Living Now Book Awards 2020 Bronze Medalist for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. Available at haroldmichaelharvey.com