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Ralph David Abernathy
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Reverend Ralph David Abernathy  (1926-1990)

When Ralph Abernathy walked into the room where I was set up to photograph him, he asked, “Are you from NBC, ABC or CBS?”  I said I was an independent, and he answered, “I like independence.”   Our relaxed portrait session was in 1985 during one of his speaking tours.

Mr. Abernathy was born in Linden, Alabama in 1926 and graduated from Alabama State University in 1950.  A year later he earned his M. A. in sociology from Atlanta University and became a pastor of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
While living in Montgomery he formed a close relationship with Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, Abernathy and King organized the bus boycott, which after a year resulted in a ruling by the United States Supreme Court that segregation on buses was unconstitutional.  Abernathy was Mr. King’s right hand man in the Southern Christian Leadership, with the title of Secretary-Treasurer.  The two worked very closely together until Mr. King’s untimely death in 1968, where they shared a room together the night before the leader was slain.

After King’s death, Rev. Abernathy assumed the role of president of the SCLC, but never got the support his successor had.  Reverend Abernathy continued to work for civil rights and was vice president of the American Freedom Coalition until his death in 1990.

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