Ralph David Abernathy, Sr. (March 11, 1926 – April 17, 1990) was a leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, a minister, and a close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Following King's assassination, Dr. Abernathy took up the leadership of the SCLC Poor People's Campaign and led the March on Washington, D.C. that had been planned for May 1968.
He was born March 11, 1926 to W. L. Abernathy on the family 500-acre (2.0 km2) farm in Marengo County, Alabama. After serving in the United States Army during World War II, he enrolled at Alabama State University. In 1951 he earned a Masters of Science degree in sociology from Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta University). As an officer of the Montgomery, Alabama NAACP, he organized the first mass meeting of the Montgomery Bus Boycott to protest Rosa Park's arrest on December 1,1955. He co-founded the Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King, Jr. As the Vice President of the Montgomery Improvement Association, he completed his Master’s Thesis in Sociology for Atlanta University, The Natural History of A Social Movement: The Montgomery Improvement Association, which was first referenced in 1984, then published as a chapter in 1989
In the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Abernathy was the young pastor of the largest black church First Baptist Church and a college professor, who, along with fellow English professor JoAnne Robinson, called for and distributed flyers asking the Negro Citizens of Montgomery to stay off of the buses for what would become the Montgomery Bus Boycott. At the end of the boycott, on January 10, 1957, Dr. Abernathy's church and his home (1327 South Hall Street) were severely bombed; his wife, Juanita, and infant daughter, Juandalynn, were unharmed.