Family Tries to Move Ralph Abernathy From King's Shadow
Aug. 19, 1990
ATLANTA (AP) _ The family of the late Ralph David Abernathy is trying to give the civil rights leader something he never achieved in life: a place in history outside the shadow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Historically, Abernathy is regarded as King's right-hand man rather than, as his family insists, the co-founder of the U.S. civil rights movement.
''Uncle Martin was the voice. My father was the laborer; he was the planner,'' said Abernathy's daughter, Donzaleigh Abernathy-Bosley. ''Just like Martin Luther King had a dream, Ralph David Abernathy had a dream.''
His family has established the Abernathy Foundation to fight for social justice and educate the public about civil rights. The way Abernathy's family speaks of the foundation highlights the tensions that have existed for years between the two families.
His daughter said the foundation would be unlike the King Center here, which is run by King's widow, Coretta Scott King.
''The King Center is a political organization. The King family is a political family,'' Ms. Abernathy-Bosley said. ''We are a charitable, social family. There is nothing politically related to us at all.''
Historian David Garrow, author of ''Bearing the Cross,'' a King biography, said most of the rivalry between the two families started shortly after King was assassinated in 1968.
Abernathy took control of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Mrs. King broke away to establish the King Center. Bad feelings increased last year when Abernathy published an autobiography that detailed King's long- rumored marital infidelity.
''The question of why Ralph wrote what he did in his book amounts to Round 14 of hard feelings that go back to the early '70s,'' Garrow said.
When Abernathy died in April at age 64, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution published on its front page a photograph of Mrs. King - rather than Abernathy's widow - at the funeral.
''My husband's funeral, and they put on the front page a picture of my husband's best friend's widow,'' said Juanita Abernathy.
Mrs. King and Mrs. Abernathy appear cordial enough in public, but those who know both say the friendship is superficial.
''It amounts to a feeling on the part of Juanita that she was deliberately left out, and Ralph was deliberately left out over the years - not by Martin - but by Coretta,'' said Democratic state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, a close friend of the Abernathy family.
''We're friendly, but Mrs. King is busy. I'm busy. She does her thing and I'm doing mine,'' Mrs. Abernathy said.
Mrs. King declined to be interviewed for an article on the two families, published in Sunday's Journal and Constitution.
Garrow said that in the future, he believes the history of movement will focus less on King. But for now, he said, ''competitive tensions have won out over cooperation.''