The city of Atlanta has lost another noted figure in the history of Black Atlanta politics and civil rights.
Former Georgia state senator and local activist Ralph David Abernathy III has died, two days before his 57th birthday.
Abernathy was the son of Civil Rights Movement Icon Ralph David Abernathy Sr., a trusted lieutenant of the Rev. Martin L. King Jr. Although a child at the height of the movement, he was aware of the vicious racial hatred against Blacks at the time. He was born shortly after his parent’s home and his father’s church were bombed. According to his family, his early childhood was filled with the fear that his family would again be the victim of racial violence. His mother always kept his bedroom door open and a light on to help him get to sleep at night.
Durig the Alabama civil rights struggle, he was arrested at the age of 9 — without his parent’s knowledge — and found himself in an Alabama jail. But this did not destroy him; in fact, it encouraged him to fight on in the footsteps of his father and Dr. King. In Atlanta he was the first Black child to integrate his elementary school and faced racism throughout his early years. He attended Morehouse College and graduated with a degree in English and linguistics in 1981. He soon began a path of leadership that saw him serve four years in the Georgia House of Representatives. He was later elected to the Georgia Senate in 1991. He held several leadership positions while serving in the Georgia Senate and led efforts to remove Confederate symbols from the Georgia state flag.
But his activism caused him to attract the attention of those who hated his work. This was compounded by his arrest in 1997 for hiding marijuana in his underwear on a trip back from Jamaica. In 1997, he was indicted on 35 charges, including making a false statement, violation of oath of office, theft by taking, forgery and witness tampering that sent him to prison. After his release, he led a quiet life in Atlanta.
Abernathy had been battling cancer for the past three years that eventually spread to his liver. His family has stated that he maintained his Christian faith until his death.