Biography

Ralph Abernathy

Ralph Abernathy

Freedom Rider Montgomery, AL

Rev. Ralph Abernathy was a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and beyond. As the young pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL, he and Martin Luther King, Jr. were among the leaders of the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott organized in response to the arrest of Rosa Parks.

In 1961, Abernathy's First Baptist Church was the site of the May 21 "siege" where an angry mob of white segregationists surrounded 1,500 people inside the sanctuary. At one point, the situation seemed so dire that Abernathy and King considered giving themselves up to the mob to save the men, women, and children in the sanctuary.

When reporters asked Abernathy to respond to Robert Kennedy's complaint that the Freedom Riders were embarrassing the United States in front of the world, Abernathy responded, "Well, doesn't the Attorney General know we've been embarrassed all our lives?"

On May 25, Abernathy was arrested on breach of peace charges after escorting William Sloane Coffin's Connecticut Freedom Ride to the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Terminal, neither the first nor the last instance of civil disobedience in a lifetime of activism.

After Dr. King's assassination on April 4, 1968, Abernathy took up the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Poor People's Campaign and led the 1968 March on Washington. Ralph Abernathy died in 1990.

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