Most sources refer to the civil rights organization Martin Luther King led as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), but some refer to it as the Southern Baptist Leadership Conference (SBLC).

Mr. Wyatt, a member of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Greater New York, a chief sponsor of the observances, urged citizens to take a day off from work “in memory of this great man,” or to forward a day's pay to the Southern Baptist Leadership Conference in Atlanta. New York Times Jan 12, 1972.

and in an advertisement offering a poster from The Poor People's Campaign,

The iconic poster for the Poor People's Campaign. A photo of MLK holding this poster was distributed to newspapers in 1968 with the caption "Civil Rights Leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Leadership Conference (SCLC), displays the poster to be used during his Poor People's Campaign this spring and summer, March 4, 1968..." Poor People's Campaign poster

What was the history behind there being two names? Ralph Abernathy, with whom King founded the group, was, like King, a Baptist minister, so it might make sense that "SBLC" was the original name, but changed later to be more inclusive?

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    Most likely that's a misprint. In the US the words "Southern Baptist" are quite often said together, but that is the name of a conservative historically white protestant congregation. They were quite supportive both of slavery and of segregation.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 27, 2020 at 1:36
  • @T.E.D. I'm not sure how the two Southern Baptist ministers who led the lunch counter sit-ins against segregation could be said to belong to a group supportive of segregation, but I doubt "Southern Baptist" is a misprint. There are numerous contemporaneous examples of its use and of its acronym's (SBLC) use.
    – CWill
    Apr 27, 2020 at 21:11
  • The lunch-counter sit-ins were primarily organized, led, and staffed by students. SNCC was largely formed out of that movement (the "S" stands for "Student"). I'm unaware of any Southern Baptist ministers being positively involved in them, but I suppose its possible one or two were.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 29, 2020 at 20:13
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    @CWill If you have "numerous contemporaneous examples" of the SBLC acronym, please add a few to your question.
    – Brian Z
    Apr 29, 2020 at 23:35
  • @BrianZ I did. There are two examples in my question, and if you Google "Southern Baptist Leadership Conference" in quotes, you get over 4000 hits.
    – CWill
    Apr 30, 2020 at 2:49

1 Answer 1


According to the SCLC web site, it took about a year for the organization to form, in a series of meetings, changing name several times: in Jan 1957 it was the "Southern Leadership Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration", in Feb 1957, the "Southern Leadership Conference", and, in August 1957, the "Southern Christian Leadership Conference", which it has remained ever since. Further details are in the wikipedia SCLC page and in its sources, and at the King Institute.

Google books shows that the term "Leadership Conference" was in wide-spread use in America in the first half of the 20th century, generically used in the names of ad-hoc committees within organizations such as the 4H club and churches of various denominations.

Of course the leading figure in the SCLC story, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist, as were many of the other participants; many of the early meetings were held in Baptist churces. So it makes sense -- a kind of sense -- that people might use the descriptive phrase "Southern Baptist Leadership Conference", even though I don't think it was ever an official title of an organizational predecessor of the SCLC.

Indeed, as T.E.D. comments, "Southern Baptist" usually refers to the "Southern Baptist Convention", a denomination that seems generally unsympathetic with the SCLC's program. This is in contrast, as Jon Custer commented, with "Southern Christian" which is simply a string of descriptive adjectives without any implication of organizational affiliation. (Other than with the SCLC itself, of course.)

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    MLK was a Baptist, but not a Southern Baptist. That one word denotes a gigantic difference. The "Baptist" churches involved in the SCLC were largely either independent, or associated with the National Baptist Convention. They are colloquially known in the US as "Black Baptist" to avoid exactly this confusion.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 30, 2020 at 0:59
  • @T.E.D. Thanks. I have edited; I hope you think it's an improvement. Apr 30, 2020 at 1:41
  • With ‘Southern Christian’ being Christians in the South, not a church or sect.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 30, 2020 at 2:37
  • Was ready to accept your claim that the use of "Southern Baptist" was just a result of onomastic sloppiness, then Googled "SBLC" and "Martin Luther King" and, sure enough, almost all the hits were to various blogs and what-not, or to banks offering Stand-By Letters of Credit in their branch located on Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. But, then, down a page or so, I found this item from The Guardian indicating there was a conservative rival to Ralph Abernathy named EV Hill who, says the Guardian, founded the SBLC with Dr King. theguardian.com/news/2003/apr/10/guardianobituaries.usa
    – CWill
    May 3, 2020 at 22:08
  • Even the Guardian gets things wrong sometimes: "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" May 3, 2020 at 22:16

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