This Day in History: 1926-03-11

American religious leader and pioneering civil rights activist Ralph David Abernathy is born. The son of a successful farmer, Abernathy was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1948 and graduated with a B.S. degree from Alabama State University in 1950. His interest then shifted from mathematics to sociology, and he earned an M.A. degree in the latter from Atlanta University in 1951. That same year Abernathy became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL.

Shortly thereafter, Rev. Abernathy met and became Dr. Martin Luther King’s chief aide and closest associate. In 1955–56, King and Abernathy organized a boycott by black citizens of the Montgomery bus system that forced the system’s racial desegregation in 1956. This nonviolent boycott marked the beginning of the civil rights movement of the following two decades. Abernathy and King subsequently co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), respectively serving as secretary-treasurer and president. Learn more.