Reverend Fred D. Taylor and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

By Sarah Quigley, Project Archivist, Southern Christian Leadership Conference records, MARBL

“Working for Freedom: Documenting Civil Rights Organizations” is a collaborative project between Emory University's Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, The Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, and The Robert W. Woodruff Library of Atlanta University Center to uncover and make available previously hidden collections documenting the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta and New Orleans. The project is administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources with funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Each organization regularly contributes blog posts about their progress.

Fred Taylor was born in Prattville, Alabama in 1942.  He was raised by his grandparents, who moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1953.  Two years later at the age of 13, under the direction of his pastor Ralph David Abernathy, Taylor became involved with the Civil Rights Movement handing out leaflets during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery and went on to Alabama State University, finishing his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1965.  In 1969, Taylor graduated from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia with a Master of Divinity degree.

In 1969, Taylor began working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, then under the leadership of Abernathy, as a research assistant in the department of Chapters and Affiliates.  By 1973, Taylor had risen to Director of that department, also serving as Office Manager and Assistant Director of Affiliates along the way.  In this position, Taylor oversaw an effort to strengthen the organization’s network of chapters and affiliate organizations.  For many years prior, the chapters and affiliates structure had been plagued by loose connections to the national organization and local chapters often faced stiff competition from local chapters of organizations such as the NAACP and PUSH.  Many other chapters ceased to function altogether.  Throughout the 1970s, Taylor worked to strengthen relationships with local leaders such as John Nettles in Alabama and Henry Silva in Virginia, while the chapters themselves worked to institute programs that aided impoverished and disenfranchised members of their communities.

Above:  Fred Taylor at his desk at SCLC, circa 1970s.  

In 1984, Taylor became Director of Direct Action and Convener of SCLC’s Crisis Intervention Committee.  In these related roles, he was responsible for coordinating direct action efforts such as 1988’s Martin Luther King Pilgrimage for Economic Justice and the 1985 boycott of Winn Dixie supermarkets, as well as intervening on behalf of community members experiencing racial discrimination and other hardships.  Even as Director of Chapters and Affiliates, Taylor had been involved in planning many direct action events, including the southern leg of the 1976 Continental Walk for Disarmament and Social Justice

Above:  Taylor speaking at an unidentified event, circa 1980s.  Above:  Taylor is arrested at an unidentified march or rally, circa 1980s.

Taylor was also a board member of the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and in that role worked closely with Anne Braden and Ben Chavis.  He was deeply involved in the anti-death penalty movement, was a torch-bearer in the 1996 Olympics, and has maintained an active speaking and ministerial schedule outside his work with SCLC. 

All photos in this entry are by Elaine Tomlin, former SCLC photographer.  Click on the images to see larger versions.

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