The Rev. Wilburt Shanklin - the SCLC's parliamentarian and a defendant in the case - testified he wanted a gag order placed on the board of directors and staff after communications began to deteriorate and became chaotic.
"That was the only way I knew to get a handle on things," Shanklin said.
He decided to move forward with a lawsuit without the permission of the full board of directors - though he said the executive board was aware of the move - because he couldn't get board members to return phone calls, he told Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alford J. Dempsey Jr.
"I called Sylvia Tucker 'til I was blue in the face, and I never got a call back," he said, referring to the board's chairwoman.
Shanklin's testimony is part of a hearing to determine who is in charge of the civil rights organization after months of bickering has led to confusion and paralysis. Witnesses are painting a picture of a group that does not always understand or follow its own constitution and bylaws. Each side claims its interpretation of SCLC rules is correct, but it's up to Dempsey to decide who is in charge.
The hearing will continue Monday morning at the courthouse in downtown Atlanta.
The SCLC, co-founded by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957, split last fall over allegations of financial mismanagement by Chairman Raleigh Trammell and Treasurer Spiver Gordon. Those accusations led to ongoing federal, local and internal investigations. Several members of the board of directors have sought to remove them from office, but Trammell and Gordon have challenged their dismissal.
Divided allegiances have created the perception of two SCLC's, both claiming to conduct the organization's business and conducting meetings hundreds of miles apart in Georgia and Alabama. The rival groups are planning the SCLC's annual conv also ention scheduled for August.
In recent months, the SCLC's bank accounts have been frozen and the locks on the downtown Atlanta headquarters changed as confusion reigned and individuals acted first and later asked for permission. And its president-elect, the Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the slain civil rights leader, has delayed taking office to avoid being ensnared in the legal battle.
Confusion over who is in charge of the SCLC has paralyzed the group and distracted it from social justice issues.
Foot soldiers who once worked alongside each other in the struggle for civil rights sat on opposite sides of the courtroom this week. Some wore yellow ribbons pinned to their lapels as a sign of solidarity for the plaintiffs in the case - the Rev. Sylvia Tucker and board members Bernard Lafayette and Randall Gaines, represented by attorney Charles Mathis. Others lined up behind the defendants, the Rev. Wilburt Shanklin, the Rev. Curtis Harris and the Rev. Markel Hutchins.