Apr. 17, 2019

Remembering Reverend Ralph David Abernathy

“I should be with you and with the hundreds of sons and daughters of slaves who have the courage to say to the sons and daughters of former slave holders that this a new day and we want freedom now”

Ralph Abernathy
December 1961

Today is the 29th year since the passing Reverend Ralph David Abernathy who was in Martin Luther King Jr.’s own word his very best friend and loyal companion in the civil rights struggle from 1955-68.  In many ways Reverend Abernathy was Dr. King’s muse or sounding board during the most difficult days of the civil rights struggle. As a matter of pure fact it was Reverend Abernathy who convinced the 26-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. to take the leadership reins during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Dr. King had just arrived in the city of Montgomery, Alabama to pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church while Reverend Ralph Abernathy had already spent three years pastoring at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama when on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on that segregated bus that launched the massive move towards civil rights in this country.  So had it not been for two individuals first Rosa Parks for her heroic act of self-defiance and Ralph Abernathy for his ability to convince Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to take the mantle of leadership during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It is quite possible that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may have ended up on a university campus teaching religion and philosophy rather than leading the massive move towards black civil rights during the 1950’s - 1968.  Why isn’t Reverend Ralph David Abernathy more recognized by our black communities as truly one of the most instrumental figures who fought for racial change in this nation?  Most likely it goes back to his autobiographical book release the year before he died of  massive heart attack at the age of 64.  In that book Reverend Abernathy disclosed some sexual innuendoes that Dr. King was involved in the night before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.  With those disclosures it seemed that every beneficial act performed by Reverend Ralph Abernathy was erased from black history. Even the people who walked side by side with King and Abernathy throughout the civil rights struggle distanced themselves from Reverend Abernathy for those sexual disclosures. Yet, now 51 years since the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. history has proven that Reverend Abernathy wasn’t telling mistruths about those acts of Dr. King that fateful night. However, no one still give due credit to this man who stood in the shadows of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for those 13 years.

However, today I am going to give this remarkable man of faith his due. Ralph David Abernathy was locked arm in arm with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. going into the belly of racial hatred on seemingly every occasion of historical significance during the civil rights struggle. Not only was Reverend Abernathy with Dr. King in Montgomery, but he was also with Dr. King in Birmingham facing the vile hatred of Bull Conner and the legion of white folks vent on doing physically harm on blacks marching for citizenship rights in Albany, Georgia, Selma, Alabama and every nook and cranny of a town throughout the south. Reverend Abernathy marched side by side with Dr. King from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi when a shotgun blast stopped James Meredith’s personal march against fear in 1966. When Dr. King wrote the historic letter from the Birmingham Jail in April 1963 who was his cellmate, Reverend Ralph David Abernathy. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lead the March on Washington in August 1963 whose words did he use? Who was his spiritual soul partner on the stage the day he gave the I Have A Dream speech, Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, that’s who. Who assisted Martin Luther King in founding the Southern Christian Leadership Conference? The alliance of the greatest band of black southern preachers that was ever created, Reverend Ralph David Abernathy. Who travelled with Dr. King to Oslo, Norway to support his best friend when Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize? Ralph David Abernathy that’s who.  Who introduced him on that fateful night in Memphis, Tennessee when Dr. King revealed his journey to the promised land? Reverend Ralph David Abernathy. Who gave the final words honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 9, 1968 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church? Reverend Ralph David Abernathy.

Why did we allow the white media to destroy the memory of the greatness of Reverend Ralph David Abernathy. The media jumped on the sexual disclosures that Reverend Abernathy put in his autobiography about Dr. King. They, the media again went to the main players of the civil rights struggle in 1989.  Rather than reading the whole book which discusses what Reverend Abernathy was attempting to do which was to show that Dr. King wasn’t a perfect man.  Because in this world no man is perfect he wanted to simply tell the whole truth about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rather than reading this book which gave the public a bird’s eye view of the total man. The media spent hours upon hours on that fateful night of April 3-4, 1968. I am not saying that Reverend Abernathy was correct in disclosing the events of that night. Yet, it was proven to be historically correct. Reverend Abernathy wasn’t the great speaker that Dr. King was. Nor did Reverend Abernathy have the charm and intellectual charisma that embodied Dr. King. Reverend Abernathy couldn’t capture a crowd to make mountains from molehills. Yet he was a man of religious principles, firm determination and a desire to uplift the black communities across this nation.  For that alone he should be remembered as a historical legend for his work during the civil rights struggle.  Yet, Reverend Ralph David Abernathy is sometimes forgotten. They are no great monuments built that measure his contributions to our struggle.  Yet, whenever the bell rang to participate in the fight for our black communities struggle against injustice, Reverend Ralph David Abernathy answered the call. He faced the bullets, slings, arrows, bricks, bats, pipes, cursing, vile mistreatment and kept his head held high. So today The Blackman Who Reads Aloud salutes the courageous spirit and power of Reverend Ralph David Abernathy.