Maya Angelou becomes Northern Coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
In the late 1950s, Angelou joined the Harlem Writers Guild, where she met a number of major African American authors, including James Baldwin, who would go on to become her close friend and mentor.
After hearing civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak for the first time in 1960, she joined the Civil Rights movement, going on to organize on their behalf, and becoming Northern Coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. During the early 1960s, Angelou briefly lived with South African activist Vusumzi Make; she moved with him and her son Guy to Cairo, Egypt, where she became an associate editor at the weekly newspaper The Arab Observer.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) is an American civil rights organization. SCLC was closely associated with its first president, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The SCLC had a large role in the American Civil Rights Movement.
In January 1957, in the afterglow of the Montgomery Bus Boycott victory and consultations with Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, and others, Dr King invited some 60 black ministers and leaders to Ebenezer Church in Atlanta. Their goal was to form an organization to coordinate and support nonviolent direct action as a method of desegregating bus systems across the South. In addition to Rustin and Baker, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham, Rev Joseph Lowery of Mobile, Rev Ralph Abernathy of Montgomery, Rev C.K. Steele of Tallahassee, all played key roles in this meeting.
On February 14, a follow-up meeting was held in New Orleans. Out of these two meetings came a new organization with Dr. King as its president. Initially called the "Negro Leaders Conference on Nonviolent Integration," then "Southern Negro Leaders Conference," the group eventually chose "Southern Christian Leadership Conference" (SCLC) as its name, and expanded its focus beyond busses to ending all forms of segregation. A small office was established on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta with Ella Baker as SCLC's first—and for a long time only—staff member.
Shortly after her arrival in the United States, Malcolm X was assassinated, and the organization dissolved. Soon after X's assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Dr. Angelou to serve as Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King's assassination, falling on her birthday in 1968, left her devastated.
The very beginnings of the SCLC can be traced back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Montgomery Bus Boycott began on December 5, 1955 after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on the bus. The boycott lasted for 381 days and ended on December 21, 1956, with the desegregation of the Montgomery bus system. The boycott was carried out by the newly established Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Martin Luther King, Jr. served as President and Ralph David Abernathy served as Program Director. It was one of history’s most dramatic and massive nonviolent protests, stunning the nation and the world.