What's In A Name? | Ralph David Abernathy

Jul 12, 2018

He was a Baptist minister, an Atlanta civil rights legend, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s best friend. 

Ralph David Abernathy's name can also be found on many streets across the city.

This summer during All Things Considered on 88.5 FM in Atlanta host Rickey Bevington is telling stories about some of Atlanta’s most interesting place names. 

The night before his assassination in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told a crowd of Memphis sanitation workers Ralph David Abernathy was his best friend. 

I have suffered as much as Martin Luther King. Only I didn't get the bullet. And I would have taken the bullet if I could have.
-Ralph David Abernathy

Ralph Abernathy (right) standing with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Credit Getty Images

They'd med about a decade earlier when Rosa Parks was arrested on a Montgomery bus in 1958. Abernathy and other Alabama leaders formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA).

They recruited King to join the Montgomery bus boycott.

A year later, Abernathy and King cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta.

Abernathy died in Atlanta in 1990, one year after publishing his memoir And the Walls Came Tumbling Down.

Twenty years after Abernathy’s death, hip hop artists Kanye West and Jay Z released "So Appalled" (2010) which features a tribute to Abernathy in a verse rapped by Georgia Native Cyhi da Prynce. 

Atlanta with its rich civil rights history has several places named for Abernathy.

The stretch of Interstate 20 heading west to Georgia State University was named Ralph David Abernathy Freeway in 1991 by the Georgia Department of Transportation. 

Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard winds through Atlanta's West side from Westview Cemetery to Georgia State Stadium (formerly Turner Field).

To learn more about Ralph David Abernathy and his involvement in the civil rights movement click here. 

We invite you to submit your idea for our summer series "What’s In A Name?" at GPB.org/Name.