Ralph David Abernathy, Sr. (March 11, 1926 – April 17, 1990) was a leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, a minister, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s closest friend. In 1955, he collaborated with King to create the Montgomery Improvement Association, which would lead to the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott against segregation on buses in the south. In 1957, Abernathy co-founded, and was an executive board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Following the assassination of King, Abernathy became president of the SCLC. As president of the SCLC, he led the Poor People's Campaign March on Washington, D.C. in 1968. Abernathy also served as an advisory committee member of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). He later returned to the ministry, and in 1989 - the year before his death — Abernathy wrote a controversial autobiography about his and King's involvement in the civil rights movement. The title of his publication is "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Autobiography" and is still available.
Abernathy, one of William and Louivery Abernathy's 11 children, was born on March 11, 1926 on their family 500-acre (200 ha) farm in Linden, Alabama. Abernathy's father, was the first African-American to vote in Marengo County, Alabama, and the first to serve on a grand jury there. Abernathy attended Linden Academy, a Baptist school founded by the First Mt. Pleasant District Association. At Linden Academy, Abernathy led his first demonstration, to protest the inferior science lab; the school improved the science lab as a result of his persistent actions.
During World War II, he enlisted in the United States Army, and rose to the rank of Platoon Sergeant before earning an honorable discharge as a result of his bout of rheumatic fever in Europe. Afterwards, he enrolled at Alabama State University using the benefits from the G.I. Bill, which he earned with his service. As a sophomore he was elected president of the student council, and led a successful hunger strike to raise the quality of the food served on the campus. While still a college student, Abernathy announced his call to the ministry, which he had envisioned since he was a small boy growing up in a devout Baptist family. He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1948, and preached his first sermon on Mother's Day, in honor of his recently deceased mother. In 1950 he graduated with a bachelor's degree in Mathematics. During that summer Abernathy hosted a radio show and became the first black man on radio in Montgomery, Alabama. In the fall, he then went on to further his education at Atlanta University. And, in 1951, Abernathy earned his Master of Science degree in sociology with High Honors. His master's thesis, "The Natural History of A Social Movement: The Montgomery Improvement Association", was published by Carlson Publishing in David Garrow's book The Walking City – The Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955-1956...
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