MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference Names Prominent Journalist, Author and Standard-Bearer for Economic Justice Bankole Thompson to National Board

PuLSE News- The Atlanta-based historic Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the signature civil rights organization, which played a massive role during the Civil Rights Movement, and founded in 1957 at Ebenezer Baptist Church by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who served as its first president, has recently tapped Bankole Thompson, the nationally acclaimed Detroit journalist, public intellectual, and racial justice champion to be a member of its National Board of Directors. 

The selection of a leading Black journalist whose work on the political and cultural landscape over the years has been lauded for its clarity, consistence, tenacity and boldness in championing issues of poverty and racial inequality, to help guide the flagship organization that embodies Dr. King’s enduring legacy, comes amid the current national reckoning on racial justice.

The SCLC’s historic work brought prominence to the civil rights struggle and laid the foundation for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Thompson was nominated by SCLC national board chairman Reverend Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr., an elder statesman of the Civil Rights Movement, and one of the last remaining and most trusted lieutenants of King.

A major authority on nonviolence who served as the National Coordinator of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, LaFayette, has long admired Bankole Thompson’s work as a courageous voice for racial and economic justice in the world of the media. The two worked together in the past including when LaFayette would visit Detroit to participate in events that were hosted by the journalist. 

LaFayette who has described Thompson as a “remarkable person with many talents and powerful passion,” believes that his background and considerable impact as a journalist and a widely respected voice for fairness, equity and inclusion will bring needed diversity to the board. That Thompson’s addition to the board will tremendously help the organization at a time when many of the nation’s leading institutions including civil and human rights organizations are being challenged to use creative and innovative strategies to fight for racial equality in the modern era.

“I consider it an honor and a privilege to be asked to serve on the SCLC national board by Dr. LaFayette, one of the 20th century’s foremost civil rights leaders,” Thompson said. “SCLC at one point in history was the indomitable captain steering the ship of conscience towards the moral destiny of this nation. A genuine civilization of conscience would not have been born during the height of the Civil Rights Movement without the SCLC and King’s unbending vision and determination to confront the shackles of staggering inequality and racial injustice. It is this history that has long informed my commitment and work in civil and human rights.”

Thompson added, “With the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s dreadful ruling on affirmative action, SCLC faces both a historic opportunity and challenge to perform like a surgeon on the maladies of racial injustice and economic inequality. From where I sit in Detroit, which is ground zero of the urban crisis, there is a fierce urgency to address the inequities that Black people are confronting in the nation. I believe in the redemptive power of institutions to be an effective force for good.  That is why I look forward to serving SCLC in this new capacity by working together with the rest of my colleagues on the board to help the organization achieve its stated goals in the modern struggle for human dignity.”

Thompson is executive dean and editor-in-chief of The PuLSE Institute, a prestigious national and independent anti-poverty think tank in Detroit, which was founded several years ago based on his work on race, democracy and poverty.

He is a twice-a-week opinion columnist at The Detroit News, where he writes about presidential politics, public leadership, social and economic justice issues.

He is host of REDLINE, a daily two-hour radio program on 910AM Super Station. A political commentator, he has made numerous national media appearances including CNN’s Inside Politics discussing issues relating to Black communities and the 2020 presidential election

Civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr. and journalist and author Bankole Thompson sit at a dinner table in Selma, Alabama in May of this year discussing civil rights issues.

“The PuLSE Institute congratulates Bankole Thompson on his elevation to the National Board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Safeguarding an immeasurable wealth of legacy and history as the premier civil rights organization co-founded by Dr. King himself, the SCLC is the pinnacle vault of racial justice and social equity in the nation,” said Attorney Tina M. Patterson, the President and Director of Research at The PuLSE Institute. “Bankole Thompson, a fearless, profound, and essential voice in the media championing civil rights and racial and economic justice, will add his unmatched talent and uncompromising conviction to the mission of the SCLC to continue the work of Dr. King into the 21st century. It is a well-deserved honor decades in the making, and we at The PuLSE Institute are humbled to work alongside a trailblazing leader such as Bankole Thompson in the fight for a more just and equitable future.”

Robert S. Weiner, former White House spokesman, who directed communication for former Congressmen Charles Rangel, John Conyers Jr., and Four-Star General Barry McCaffrey, and served as an aide to then Sen. Edward Kennedy has followed Thompson’s work.

“Bankole Thompson’s election to the SCLC national board is well deserved. He will continue his life of service against poverty and discrimination in a major way. He is contributing his life’s purpose as he did by being one of the first African American newspaper editors to interview President Barack Obama, by his service as editor of the Michigan Chronicle when he helped it excel as a premier African American newspaper, by his timely, poignant, and penetrating articles as an op-ed columnist for The Detroit News, and by his amazing interviews on his radio shows and forums on critical issues. Moreover, the creation of The PuLSE Institute, inspired by his transcending work is a major contribution to the fight  needed against poverty in America,” Weiner said. “In fact, Thompson will be contributing enormously now that the SCLC is bringing an illustrious journalist on its national board. His advice will be key on how to get their critical message out. SCLC has played a preeminent role during the Civil Rights Movement and in eradicating hate crime organizations and centers in America, and Thompson is an expert in revealing how terrifying that aspect of American life is.”

Weiner further noted, “Bankole Thompson has written so well on the subject of race, poverty, and inequality and will help the enormously significant SCLC platform to continue his own work and use his deep knowledge about hate crimes, poverty, and discrimination. The Nation thanks him for what he does, and SCLC is extremely well served to have him. What a terrific choice made by the eminent Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr.”

Jim Vincent, a national civil rights activist who is the former president of the Providence NAACP Chapter in Rhode Island also hailed the election.

“Bankole Thompson’s election to the National Board of Directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s key civil rights organization, is a fitting tribute to a journalist who has long served our community as a champion for racial justice,” Vincent said. “Over the years, Thompson has played a pivotal role as a powerful voice by  pushing the envelope and spotlighting issues that are at the center of our struggle. That is why it was an honor for me to invite him in 2011 to serve as the keynote speaker for the Providence NAACP 98th Freedom Fund Dinner in Rhode Island, when I was first elected president of the organization.”

Vincent said Thompson has been a journalistic standard bearer and that his work is a mirror into the ignored racial and economic justice issues playing out in the nation.

“The work that Bankole Thompson does in the media and through The PuLSE Institute makes him the dean of modern civil rights journalism in Michigan. No one has used his voice, pen, and stature in Michigan and Detroit to boldly and directly confront and challenge politicians including holding governors and mayors accountable as well as pricking the conscience of billionaires and business leaders on racial inequality issues than Bankole Thompson. He has never been afraid to make the powerful uncomfortable,” Vincent said. “Around the country we look at issues affecting Black people in Michigan through Bankole Thompson’s journalism. The decision of the SCLC to invite someone with a proven track record of speaking truth to power as well as possessing a deeper commitment to civil rights to sit on its board, is a win for all those who want to see an end to racial injustice. Such a decision upholds the legacy of Dr. King.”

Dr. Ashraf Esmail, endowed professor of criminal justice and the executive director of the Center for Racial Justice at Dillard University in New Orleans, lauded the decision for Thompson to join the SCLC board.

“Bankole Thompson’s critical writings, editorials, and thought provoking interviews on issues related to race, social justice, and civil rights has allowed us to advance further as a country,” Esmail said. “His contributions on the SCLC national board will only serve to enhance this powerful work.”

In January of 2018, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, recognizing that perhaps no other Black journalist in the modern era in Detroit, one of the nation’s largest Black cities, has elevated the discourse around poverty and racial inequality than Thompson, presented him with the “Let Freedom Ring Journalism Award.”

“Given your persistent and passionate op-eds on poverty and racial justice that clearly prick the conscience of policy makers and bureaucrats, and your community events that empower the voiceless and drive conversations toward an inclusive and equitable Detroit, it is our deep-seated hope that this award will serve as a radiant call to use your powerful platforms to do even more for the least of these in Detroit and our nation,” Rev. Jackson wrote in the nomination letter to Thompson


Rev. Martin Luther King Jr at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Headquarters in Atlanta, February, 1968. Photo Credits: Corcoran Collection

Thompson was honored at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of King’s death at Cobo Convention Hall in downtown Detroit, where King delivered the first draft of his famous “I Have a Dream,” speech. 

A prolific author, Thompson’s forthcoming book, Fiery Conscience, a compendium of analytical and expert essays from diverse individuals about his more than two decades of journalism and holding power accountable will be released later this year. 

Among the contributors to the book is the noted Black historian and author Herb Boyd, who called Thompson a “frontline journalist imbued with an uncommon sense of integrity” and “a resourceful agent in our fight for democracy and human rights.”

“In the midst of these turbulent times in our nation, we need Fiery Conscience more than ever. We are all called to speak out for the sake of truth and struggle together across divides to realize a justice that includes all. Bankole Thompson does just that and his witness can nourish our spirits,” is how 2022 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Sister Simone Campbell, one of the most renowned social justice voices in the Catholic Church, who has long followed Thompson’s work described the book after reading the manuscript. 

In 2008, Thompson, led a groundbreaking coverage of the historic presidential campaign of Barack Obama, and became one of the first Black journalists in the nation to conduct exclusive one-on-one sit-down interviews with Obama. The interviews led to a pair of books he wrote, “Obama and Black Loyalty,” (2010) and “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” (2011) which explored the politics of the religious right and Obama’s faith posture.

A sought after speaker, Thompson, has keynoted many noted and diverse organizations in the nation including the 2011 Providence, Rhode Island NAACP 98th Freedom Fund Dinner, 2012 American Jewish Committee (AJC) Detroit Region Annual Distinguished Leadership Dinner and the 2012 Henry Ford Health System Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration. He was a speaker at the 2011 Federal Bench and Bar Conference for the Eastern District of Michigan as well as the 2010 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference. 

After the death of George Floyd in 2020, Thompson, has been insisting that major institutions including corporations and foundations should demonstrate serious commitment to racial equity not just issue press releases with captivating slogans to pacify demands of legitimate discontent. He conveyed that message when he was the 2022 keynote speaker for Brown University Forum on Race and Democracy in the Era of Black Lives Matter during Black History Month. He addressed the Ivy League University on the theme, “Why Major Institutions Must Address the Fierce Urgency of Racial Justice.”

A firm believer that Historically Black Colleges and Universities are part of the fabric of America’s protracted quest for educational equity, and that they need constant support to define the contours of the 21st century educational landscape, Thompson, gave a lecture on April 7, 2022 at Dillard University on the topic: “Race and Poverty: A Question of Leadership and Ending the Nightmare of Black Exploitation.” The provocative presentation was so well received that it led to his appointment to the executive board of the Center for Racial Justice at Dillard. 

In 2020, he accepted the personal invitation of 94-year-old civil rights activist Dr. William G. Anderson, one of the leaders of the Albany movement in Georgia, and who worked with Dr. King, to serve as keynote speaker for the 20th Dr. William G. Anderson Slavery to Freedom: An American Odyssey Lecture Series at Michigan State University, a series whose previous keynote speakers include late civil rights heroes Harry Belafonte and Congressman John Lewis. His address at the East Lansing campus was titled, Black Lamentations: The Redemptive Need for Healing in American Democracy.”

One comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.