WASHINGTON — Forty-one years after his father co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King III was sworn in as its new leader and announced a membership drive to revitalize the image of the financially ailing organization.
King, 40, replaced the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, whose 20-year reign was troubled by questions about the group's mission and difficulty in raising funds.
King, who was selected in November, said the group plans to tackle social problems--"unrest, poverty, racism, violence"--but first needs to build its foundation by fostering youth leadership and catching up to technology.
"The only way that one can be successful in the '90s and beyond is to be able to have your constituents knowing how to utilize computers, knowing how to use the Internet, knowing that it is critical that you get your message out," King said in an interview Saturday before his inauguration in Laurel, Md.
The soft-spoken, eldest son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said the conference "historically was born out of protest."
The beginning of his presidency is not without some controversy of its own. In April, the board of directors abolished the organization's women's group, which was headed by Lowery's wife, Evelyn. The group had sponsored a civil rights heritage tour, awarded scholarships and participated in a prison ministry.
But King said it was using the conference name and fund-raising potential without having to answer to his organization's board.
The conference was founded by a group of ministers in 1957 after the Montgomery bus boycott. It was a major force in the civil rights movement and helped organize the 1963 March on Washington.