howard_creecy.jpgATLANTA (AP) _ Civil rights leaders gathered at the weekend funeral of the late president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, lauding the Rev. Howard Creecy Jr. for ending a time of turmoil in the organization made famous by the Rev Martin Luther King Jr. Hundreds turned out Saturday for the Atlanta funeral of the Rev. Creecy, a third-generation Baptist preacher, who took command last January of the group, which was founded in Atlanta in 1957 by King and other African-American ministers at the dawning of the civil rights movement.

Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and activist, told mourners at Jackson Memorial Baptist Church in Atlanta that mourners could celebrate “the wonderful spirit of this spiritual giant that we all love.''

“Howard Creecy is not gone,'' said Young, also a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, quoted in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He will be with you when you need him. You will hear his voice.''

The Rev. Creecy was already SCLC interim president when he took over permanently on Jan. 30 as the group's seventh president, moving to put behind a period of deep infighting in the group. Creecy died at his Atlanta home July 28 of what his family reported as an apparent heart attack.

He had taken the leadership mantle at the SCLC after King's youngest daughter, Bernice King, declined the top post. Following months of internal upheaval over leadership and finances, the Rev. Creecy was seen as a stabilizing force who could put the 54-year-old organization on sounder footing.

Damien Conners, who is in charge of programming for the organization, said the Rev. Creecy also settled on priorities of education, voting rights and HIV/AIDS awareness _ while moving to make the group relevant to young people.

For 26 years, the Rev. Creecy was senior pastor at St. Peter's Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta. In 2002, he joined his father, Howard W. Creecy Sr., at Olivet Baptist Church in 2002 where he took over upon his father's death six years later.

“You see folks from all walks of life here, right now, saying goodbye and farewell and honoring a guy who touched many, many people,'' said the SCLC's Maynard Eaton, speaking with WSB-TV on Saturday.

Following the Rev. Creecy's death, Isaac Newton Farris Jr., a nephew of King Jr. and the son of his only surviving sibling, Christine King Farris, was named interim president, the SCLC said.

The SCLC under King advocated nonviolent protest as it worked to bring equality to blacks, particularly in the South. The group played a major role in the March on Washington and civil rights campaigns in the South. The group's efforts helped lead to the end of segregation and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The SCLC also spoke out against poverty, racism and war.