Why was Farris fired from SCLC? Maturity, secret bank accounts, and disrespecting the old guard
Isaac Newton Farris, Jr. began the year on an upbeat note: “Being a voice for the voiceless is what we do at SCLC,” he wrote in the SCLC Magazine, winter 2012 edition.
On the annual national observance of his uncle’s birthday (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) this year Isaac Newton Farris, Jr. was absent from Ebenezer Baptist Church where his mother Christine King Farris was leading world leaders in the annual Ecumenical service.
Farris, Jr. was putting leather to the pavement in front of the Federal Reserve Bank at Tenth and Peachtree Street in Atlanta leading a March and demonstration along side members of the Occupy Atlanta Movement.
In December Farris had met with the Occupy Atlanta group at SCLC headquarters after they had been kicked out of Woodruff Park by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
After much acrimony and shouting with the Occupy group, Farris committed SCLC to a partnership called “Occupy the Dream.”
At the time Farris said, “I now see SCLC poised to lead our nation and our world to victory via the vigorous fight for economic empowerment, through our nonviolent direct action legacy and process.”
So what happened to derail Farris’ march at SCLC?
There were two events which occurred in December which can shed some light on this situation.
First, the alliance agreed to by Farris with Occupy Atlanta and his subsequent SCLC led March on the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta on January 16, 2012.
Second, an informal meeting on December 31, 2011 following the press conference announcing the appointment of Rev. C. T. Vivian as Vice President of SCLC.
In the former incident it can be deduced this was a sticking point with the Board because Dr. Bernard LaFayette in making the announcement that Farris was out as President said, “It is not enough to march for the sake of marching, but to engage issues in a way they have national impact.”
He added, “Martin only focused on one issue at a time on the local level with the idea to bring about national change.”
Seemingly Dr. LaFayette was contrasting the crises management style of Dr. King with that of Mr. Farris who in seven months participated in the Troy Davis Capital Punishment Appeal, aligned SCLC with the Occupy Movement, Marched on the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta, and participated in the weeklong re-enactment of the Selma to Montgomery March.
Perhaps the straw which broke the proverbial camel’s back was the meeting at the end of last year. In this meeting the organization’s Chaplin, Bishop Calvin Wood of Birmingham, Alabama, took exception to the fact Farris had contacted the mayor and other city leaders in Birmingham about participating in an SCLC banquet without his knowledge. Bishop Wood sought an acknowledgment that he would be in the loop in any future discussions about an event in Birmingham.
It was clear Farris felt Bishop Wood was challenging his authority as president. He dressed Bishop Wood down before board members who had known Bishop Wood since their days fighting Sheriff “Bull” Connors in Birmingham. This was during that city’s struggle to integrate the American Negro into its cultural fabric.
After several attempts by Dr. LaFayette to coax an apology out of Farris, he finally offered up a lukewarm acknowledgement that perhaps he may have overreacted, and then left the meeting.
Bishop Wood remained in the room, his face clearly displaying the hurt felt after a lifetime of service to the cause of civil rights lay tattered from the verbal onslaught of Farris.
In recent days it came to light that Mr. Farris continued his plans for a banquet in Birmingham without involving Bishop Wood. According to a source inside SCLC a number of bank accounts had been set up to receive funds from this banquet without the knowledge of the Board. Also, Board Chairman Dr. LaFayette learned just last week that he was to speak on the program that is scheduled to take place this week.
When these revelations came to light a meeting was held to discuss the Farris management style. At least two Board members were in favor of keeping Farris at the helm of the organization. The Board sought to work out some accommodation with Farris whereby he would step down and seek the maturity that the Board desires in its president.
Talks went on up until the moment Dr. LaFayette, speaking on behalf of the board, announced that Farris was no longer president.
Dr. LaFayette was late for the scheduled 3:00 p. m. press conference because he was at the home of Farris’ mother, Mrs. Christine King Farris, attempting to work out a joint statement with Farris. Mr. Farris elected not to attend the press conference.
Dr. LaFayette left the door open for Mr. Farris to return as president of SCLC at a later date. He said, “The decision today does not preclude him from coming back to SCLC. We think he did the best job he could do for us at this time.”