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VIA: AJC.com

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference on Friday named Bernice King, the daughter of SCLC co-founder Martin Luther King Jr., as its next president.

King was elected over Arkansas Appeals Court Judge Wendell Griffen.The vote by the board of directors was 23-15. King was not present when the vote was announced. The Rev. Byron Clay, interim president, phoned King with news of her victory.

“In the spirit of your late father, with great anticipation, we look forward to your leadership,” Clay told King in the phone call.

Clay said the board will meet with King soon before making any other announcements. “She is excited, I am excited and the nation will be excited,” Clay said.

Clay has served as interim president since February, when Charles Steele resigned after five years in the position.

King will be the seventh permanent leader in the organization’s history. Founded in 1957 by Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and Joseph Lowery, among others, the SCLC was at one time one of the country’s most powerful direct action civil rights groups.

The SCLC was instrumental in getting both the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act passed. But over the past decade, despite the christening of a new $3 million headquarters, the organization has struggled for relevancy among financial problems and internal infighting.

Bernice King, 46, is an internationally known motivational speaker and author. She is a minister at New Birth Missionary Church in Lithonia, Georgia.

She becomes the first female leader, but the third King to serve as president, following her father and older brother, Martin Luther King III.