ATLANTA – After nearly 10 months of silence, the Rev. Bernice King urged the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on Tuesday to end the bitter infighting that has split the group she was elected to lead.
King said at a news conference she still plans to lead the civil rights group but declined to say when she would take the post. She has indicated she would wait out the bickering and legal wrangling.
"I believe that the time is now for us to come together in unity as one SCLC," King said. "A house divided against itself cannot stand. The SCLC family must be about the business of restoring, rebuilding and redeeming its own internal soul as we continue in our quest to redeem the soul of America."
Shortly after her election in October by a unified SCLC, the leadership of the group co-founded by her father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., split into two factions that have since met and made decisions separately. The SCLC is awaiting a decision from a judge as to which faction controls the group.
As the factions prepare to host dueling conventions in the next week, King says she will lead a prayer vigil for the SCLC on Friday at Ebenezer Baptist Church — where her father preached from 1960 until his death in 1968 and across the street from where her parents are buried.
"We must never forget that the SCLC is a Christian organization and prayer is a part of our foundation," she said. "We will pray that SCLC is restored as a moral voice for our nation and world."
On Tuesday, King — who is also a lawyer — said she had originally intended to take office in April but waited because of the ongoing court battle. Meanwhile, King said she has been meeting with her transition team and preparing for her eventual role as head of SCLC.
King's has opted to stay out of the fray in the wake of investigations into charges of financial mismanagement by the group's ousted chairman and treasurer. Those allegations are at the heart of the SCLC split.
She said the strife of the past several months has been difficult to watch. In May, for example, one side chained and padlocked doors to keep the other side out of the group's downtown Atlanta headquarters. The chains were later cut.
King said she believes the ordeal will make the organization stronger.
According to the SCLC's website, some leaders are planning a five-day convention scheduled to begin on Aug. 7 at a hotel in Atlanta. The opposing faction is also planning a three-day convention beginning Aug. 13 at a church in Decatur.
Bernice King has not decided whether she will attend either of the conventions.
On Tuesday, it was not clear whether either side would answer her call to prayer.
In a letter dated Aug. 2, the Rev. Sylvia Tucker, who was appointed chairwoman of the SCLC board of directors earlier this year, wrote that it was inappropriate for King to hold a news conference because she hasn't met with her group's board, among other reasons.
"The President-Elect has not been involved in the interworkings of the organization over the past eight months and therefore does not appreciate all of the issues involved. For there and other reasons ... such a press conference is misguided," Tucker wrote.
Tucker said she wouldn't attend the prayer service and said that King told her she would not get involved until after the judge's ruling.
The Rev. Markel Hutchins, who was named SCLC's interim president by the side that opposes Tucker's group, said King has not been responsive to them. He declined to say whether he would attend Friday's prayer vigil.
"I learned about Elder King's plans through, and only through, the media," he said.
The SCLC was co-founded by ministers Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Joseph Lowery and others in 1957 and was a leading force in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.