Ralph Abernathy

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Ralph Abernathy

1926-1990

Civil Rights Leader

Abernathy, the grandson of a slave, was born in Linden, Alabama. Ordained a Baptist minister in 1948, he studied at Alabama State College and Atlanta University. Abernathy met Martin Luther King in the early 1950's, when the two were ministers of congregations in Montgomery, Alabama. They became widely known after the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts in 1955-56.
In 1957, King and Abernathy formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), with King as President and Abernathy as Secretary-Treasurer. After King's assassination in 1968, Abernathy assumed the presidency, leading the Poor People's Campaign later that year. Abernathy also presided over SCLC's Operation Breadbasket, which used economic pressure against companies that did not provide equal opportunities to blacks. In 1977, he resigned from the SCLC to run unsuccessfully for Andrew Young's Atlanta seat in the US House of Representatives.
After the election, he served as pastor of the West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta. A year before his death, he published his autobiography, entitled And The Walls Came Tumbling Down.