Ralph David Abernathy, clergyman, was born in Alabama in 1926, and received his bachelor’s degree from Alabama State College, after having served in the Army during the Second World War. He did his graduate work at Atlanta University, and became a minister in Montgomery, where he had as a colleague Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1955, he organized the Montgomery Improvement Association, and a short time later, he and King became known nationally because of their leadership of the successful bus boycott. It was then that they organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, soon the nation’s leading advocate of nonviolence, resisted strenuously by militant factions. Upon King’s death, Abernathy succeeded him as president.
He organized the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington where Resurrection City was built, a group of huts in the center of the nation’s capital. He was jailed for twenty days for refusing to obey the police order to remove the huts. He went on to organize the SCLC Operation Breadbasket, to exert financial pressure against companies that had poor records in extending equal opportunities to blacks. In 1961 he had become pastor of an Atlanta church and his honors came to include honorary degrees from such institutions as Long Island University, Alabama State University, Morehouse College, and Kalamazoo College. His autobiography is ‘And the Walls Came Tumbling Down’, published in 1989.