As the nation honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 45th anniversary of his death, visiting his memorial in Washington can be hard for many–especially anyone who didn’t live through the 1960’s civil rights movement–to realize just how controversial civil rights leaders like Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and Rev. Ralph Abernathy were.
But for Juanita Abernathy, Ralph’s widow, the memories have not faded. She joined Rev. Al Sharpton on PoliticsNation Friday to talk about the opposition she faced. She worked alongside her husband and King mobilizing support for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. A couple years later she and her daughter miraculously survived the bombing of their home that came as a retaliation as her husband was establishing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King. The struggle did not end there.
“We had death threats every day for five consecutive years,” she said.
She recalls that people from a white supremacist group would call her home all day long, starting at seven in the morning, every day. “It was constant,” she said. “Rosa Parks and my house, we got the calls.”
The messages were not subtle. “They cursed and called us everything, ‘We’re going to blow your so-n-so head off and your little children,’” she said.
Those experiences made it so much more rewarding to see Barack Obama take office.
“It’s hard to realize that in those days we talked about a black president but really we weren’t sure we’d ever live to see one,” said Rev. Joseph Lowery. He worked alongside Abernathy and her husband for years, eventually running the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He didn’t just live to see first black president, he also participated in his first inauguration, giving the benediction.
Abernathy agreed. “We knew one day it would happen, but not in our lifetime,” she said.
Her advice to the civil rights leaders of today and tomorrow? “Faith in God, number one, and determination, and be sure of your goals and aspirations and pursue them untiringly until they’re accomplished,” she said. ”Because it isn’t going to be easy, but if you pursue it and continually work at it, you will be successful.”