Clergyman and civil rights leader Ralph David Abernathy was born in Linden, Alabama on March 11, 1926. After graduating with a masters’ degree in sociology from Atlanta University in 1951, Abernathy became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. There, he met Martin Luther King, Jr., and the two ministers began a long and close relationship. In 1955, they organized the Montgomery bus boycott, which effectively started the modern civil rights movement.
In 1957, King and Abernathy founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with King as president and Abernathy as secretary-treasurer. Abernathy moved back to Atlanta in 1961, the same year he became vice-president of the SCLC. He also began Operation Bread Basket, attempting to feed Atlanta’s poor while working for economic equity for Atlanta’s black community. Abernathy was with King and other protesters who were arrested during the Albany Movement, which began as a protest against the segregation of the south Georgia city’s bus station, but escalated into a confrontation that received nationwide attention. Abernathy remained King’s right hand man until King’s assassination in 1968. Abernathy eulogized King and officiated at his funeral, then assumed leadership of the SCLC.
He resigned in 1977 to return to his original calling - pastoring a Baptist church in Atlanta. Abernathy’s autobiography - And the Walls Came Tumbling Down - was published in 1989. He died a year later - on April 17, 1990 - in Atlanta and is buried in Lincoln Cemetery.