NEW YORK -- A woman who claims the Rev. Ralph Abernathy implied in his book on Martin Luther King Jr. that she slept with the civil rights leader the night before his death filed a $10 million libel suit Monday in an effort to clear her name.
Adjua Naantaanbuu, 52, of Memphis, Tenn., a civil rights worker for the past 38 years, said she was 'shocked' by the inferences in Abernathy's book, 'And The Walls Came Tumbling Down,' which linked her and King as 'friends.'
'Abernathy characterized me as Martin's 'friend,'' said Naantaanbuu, who was then known as Tarlease Mathews. 'I am honored to have been considered his friend, although I had met him only one day before his death.'
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, cites Abernathy, Harper & Row Publishers Inc. of New York and the book's editor, Daniel Bia.
'Abernathy has implied that Dr. King and I had a romantic, sexual relationship. He also implied that I had engaged in procuring females for him and the Rev. (Bernard) Lee,' Naantaanbuu said. 'This is absolutely not true. I met Dr. King one day before he was assassinated, so we didn't have a relationship.
'Now I am being viewed as a loose woman who did nothing more than sleep with Dr. King,' Naantaanbuu said. 'I consider the Rev. Abernathy's comments as a second assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.'
The dispute centers on the night before King's assassination when Naantaanbuu had King, Abernathy and Lee over to her house for dinner. She said her sister, Cleopra Mitchell, and a friend, Marie Jones, joined themfor the late meal. Then, Naantaanbuu said, she drove them back to the Lorraine Hotel.
Abernathy's recounting of the events that evening are consistent with Naantaanbuu's version all the way through dinner.
Then, he wrote, he fell asleep on a chair. 'When I awoke,' he says in his book, 'I saw an empty living room, except for Bernard stretched out on the sofa. Shortly thereafter, Martin and his friend came out of the bedroom. The other women had long since left. It was after 1 a.m.'
The book never gave the friend's name.
Abernathy was unavailable for comment, but his wife, Juanita, speaking from her home in Atlanta, said Naantaanbuu's suit was aimed at making money off the book but, more importantly, it was an effort by some blacks to censor history.
'Rev. Abernathy didn't know her name. He did not say that there was any sex that night in Memphis. That's what people read into it,' Juanita Abernathy said. 'Her name is not mentioned' in the book.
'The book is a beautiful book,' she said. 'This is a political vendetta against Ralph Abernathy. It's a vicious black Mafia out there.'
The book, released in October, angered those who objected to what they called the slandering of a slain black hero.
Naantaanbuu said she met King while working on the sanitation march to be led by King in Memphis, Tenn.
She was assigned to the airport to greet civil rights workers, among them Abernathy and King, whom she had never met before.
Naantaanbuu has three grown children, two sons and one daughter. She lives in Memphis.