Ralph Abernathy was one of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s closest friends and associates and one of the most prominent civil rights leaders during the 1950s and 1960s. He played a pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott and the protests in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and became the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) following King's assassination.
Abernathy was born in the rural community of Linden, Alabama, on March 11, 1926. His father, William L. Abernathy, was a Baptist deacon and the owner of 500 acres of prime farm land. Ordained as a Baptist minister in 1948, Abernathy earned his B.S. from Alabama State University ( 1950) and his M.A. in sociology from Atlanta University ( 1951). In 1951 he accepted a post as the dean of men at Alabama State and took over as pastor of the First Baptist Church, both in Montgomery, Alabama. During the early 1950s he became close friends with the Reverend Vernon Johns, the charismatic minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. In 1955, when Johns left Montgomery, Abernathy befriended his replacement, Martin Luther King, Jr.
When Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott, King and Abernathy were chosen to head the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), which orchestrated the yearlong campaign to end segregation on the buses. Both King and Abernathy advocated nonviolence and withstood death threats during the boycott. In 1957 Abernathy helped King form the SCLC. King served as