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SCLC Names Its National Headquarters in Honor of Charles Steele, Jr

Dozens gathered outside of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s international headquarters on historic Auburn Avenue in Atlanta Tuesday, June 21, for a dedication program renaming its building for current president and CEO Dr. Charles Steele Jr.

The SCLC said in a statement that the headquarters was built in 2004 and cost $3.5 million, most of which was raised by Steele.

In April, the SCLC board unanimously voted to name the building in honor of Steele in recognition for his efforts in securing sufficient funds for the structure and ensuring it remained debt-free. The organization now owns the building.

“When he took over as president, SCLC was almost dead,” said communications director Maynard Eaton. “His first day, the lights were out. The phones were off. He’s brought it back. When I first started working here on the second term we weren’t getting paid at all. So he’s kind of rebuilt and revived and revitalized its mission and its purpose and brought it back to life if you will. He’s the one who raised the money and when it went into debt he got it out of debt again so in fact he’s built this place twice.”

For Eaton, the naming of the building was also a chance to revamp the SCLC. “The organization needs a face and he’s become the face of SCLC,” Eaton said. “It was associated with Dr. King for a while, it was associated with Dr. Joseph Lowery for a while and now it’s Dr. Charles Steele.”

But the day was about more than just the naming ceremony, it was also about celebrating the progress the organization has made, will make and what still needs to be done in the global community to keep the philosophy of its first president.

The SCLC was established in 1957 with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as its first president. It focused on peace and non-violent protests as the strategy to bringing about civil rights for all despite race, religion or background and is now an international organization. Steele first became president of the organization in 2004, exiting the position in 2009 only to return again in 2012.

During the ceremony, Steele announced that a new medical clinic would be added to the building to help out those in the community who couldn’t get access to proper medical care.

“Free medical care on Auburn Avenue,” he announced. “We’re getting ready to put a medical clinic right down stairs, a SCLC poor people medical clinic. Anybody with medical problems will get a credit card and go to several pharmaceutical drug stores to get their prescriptions without any charge.”

Even with the impact that they have and continue to make in the local community, Steele said it was not enough. “I’ve been telling people all along that SCLC has to be international,” he said. “What you saw in Orlando is a good example of that. We must understand that we are in a global village and what goes on in Europe and South America is going to affect us, not in 24 or 48 hours, but instantaneously because of technology. That’s why we have to go to the world to bring about peace and non violence in the philosophy of Dr. King and others in the civil rights movement.”

“Without the SCLC there would have been no LGBT movement. There would have been no women’s movement,” Eaton said.

“Movements were started by SCLC and still do thrive. Peace and non-violence still works. That’s what we’re crying for now in the wake of Orlando. Is it still relevant? Sure, because civil rights for all human beings are still an issue. Disparities are still an issue. Racial injustice is still an issue. Although things have changed many issues still remain much the same.”

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