ATLANTA (AP) -- The president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Howard Creecy Jr., has died seven months after taking office, the venerable civil rights group said Thursday.
Damien Conners, the SCLC's national program director, said the 57-year-old Creecy died of an apparent heart attack in Atlanta early Thursday. Creecy, pastor of The Olivet Church in Fayette County, was elected SCLC president in January after the position was declined by Bernice King, daughter of the organization's co-founder, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Before that, Creecy had served as the interim president of the civil rights organization founded in 1957. He was a native of Mobile, Ala.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, said he had spoken recently with Creecy about his plans for the SCLC.
"Even in recent weeks, he was very focused on trying to get SCLC on firm financial footing, stabilizing the organization and helping it to retool for the future," Warnock said. "He seemed very excited about his work."
According to his biography on the Olivet Church website, Creecy was a third generation preacher who co-pastored at Olivet with his father, the Rev. Howard Creecy Sr., from 2002 until his death in 2008. He was a graduate of Morehouse College and earned a doctor of divinity degree from Abotra Bible Institute and Seminary.
Morehouse College President Robert Franklin, a classmate of Creecy's, recalled that his friend of 40 years had a quick smile and hearty laugh. Franklin said Creecy reminded him of Martin Luther King, Jr., also a Morehouse alumnus and the son and grandson of a preacher.
"Like Dr. King, Howard evolved during the course of his life and ministry to become a champion for social justice," Franklin said. "I thought, how appropriate and ironic that his last leadership role was serving as the president of the SCLC. A lot of hopes have been dashed by this. It remains to be seen what their next move will be."
In a statement released Thursday by the SCLC, the organization announced that Isaac Newton Farris Jr., the nephew of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., will assume the role of interim SCLC president.
"We are shocked," Farris stated. "As far as I knew Howard was in great health. Howard has been a prophetic leader who deeply inspired me along with countless others across this great nation and world. From his inspired leadership, which revitalized the SCLC, we will work to continue on the path that he and leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. lay before us."
Creecy served as senior pastor of Saint Peter Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta for 26 years prior to coming to Olivet.
He also was a past director of the Office of Chaplain Services for Fulton County, its highest ranking ecclesiastical position. Creecy was the first African-American in the county's history to serve in that capacity.
Funeral plans were not immediately known.