Martin Luther King’s best friend became a champion for the working poor. Ralph Abernathy helped created the Food Stamp Program.
Many people know the name Ralph Abernathy. He was a leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King. He organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott after Rosa Parks was arrested. Since most of us know what he did in the 1960s, let’s talk about his life after the murder of Martin Luther King.
After Dr. King was killed in 1968, Ralph Abernathy expanded the Civil Rights Movement to include poor people of all colors. He organized a Poor People’s Campaign culminating in a March on Washington where Abernathy spoke before thousands of poor people regardless of ethnicity. The Poor People’s Campaign sparked governmental reforms including the creation of the Food Stamp Program.
He helped improve wages and working conditions of hospital employees in Charleston, South Carolina. He negotiated an end to the Wounded Knee incident of 1973.
Later, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Georgia’s fifth congressional district, the district which has been represented since 1987 by John Lewis (D-GA).
Ralph Abernathy died of natural causes in 1990.
In his final public address, Martin Luther King said, “Ralph Abernathy is the best friend I have in the world.”
Why he should be remembered: Ralph Abernathy showed the true spirit of the Civil Rights movement. The movement wasn’t solely about racism or prejudice; the movement was about freedom and opportunity. By expanding the Civil Rights movement to include everyone chained by poverty, Abernathy proved that concept.
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