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Donzaleigh Abernathy: A Connection with
Martin Luther King Jr.
The 700 Club
February 5, 2004
A Loving Legacy
Donzaleigh is the third child of the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, who
co-founded the Civil Rights Movement with his closest friend, Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. As far back as she can remember, Donzaleigh's father had greatly
impacted her life. One of her earliest memories was her father buying hamburgers
for her sister and her. The family was driving on Alabama Highway 80 one evening,
and the girls asked for hamburgers. Ralph David Abernathy refused and wouldnt
stop. After the girls pestered him more, he relented, stopped, and got them
hamburgers. When he returned and gave them the hamburgers, he told them he
would never do that again. Later, when Donzaleigh was older, she learned that
her father risked his life getting the hamburgers because restaurants were
not allowed to serve blacks. She learned he had to sneak around to the back
of the restaurant where another black man served him. Ralph David taught Gods
love and forgivenesss, as well as the importance of serving others, by example
. During the turbulent struggle for racial equality, Donzaleigh and her family
felt safe as long as her father was there. Ralph David told his family that
God would take care of them and not to fear.
Partners Called by God
It was the late 1940s when Ralph David Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr.
met twice briefly. They were reconnected in the early 1950s and became inseparable.
They had similar lives as pastors and shared a common vision for the progression
of civil rights. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, Ralph David focused
on practical applications while Martin Luther King Jr. expounded on philosophies.
On January 10, 1957, the Alabama homes of Ralph David and Martin Luther King
Jr. were bombed. Along with their homes, four churches, including Martin Luther
King Jr's. were also targeted, in a failed attempt to stop the Movement. Ralph
David and Martin Luther King Jr. were in Atlanta at the time and were relieved
to find that God had protected their families.
Their families were very close and actively participated in events together,
like the Selma to Montgomery March. When the King family moved from Alabama
to Atlanta in 1960, at the urging of Martin Luther King Jr., the Abernathy
family soon followed.
According to Donzaleigh, Ralph David was known to be fearless and Martin
Luther King Jr. called Ralph David "his rock." The evening before
Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, both Ralph David and King were called to speak
in Memphis. Not following the usual program order, Ralph David spoke first
and paid tribute to his dearest friend, Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther
King Jr. was shot early morning on April 4, 1968, and he died later at the
hospital in Ralph David's arms. Ralph David was very grieved at the loss of
his friend but continued to carry the torch of his and Martin Luther King
Jr.'s life mission together with projects like the Poor People's Campaign.
Of her father's work, Donzaleigh is most proud of the Voting Rights Act, establishing
the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and free meal programs in public schools
for low-income children.
A Call to Serve
As a young child, Donzaleigh knew she wanted to be baptized but was told
she was too young. At the age of 11, Donzaleigh demonstrated her own growing
faith and her earliest mission call of giving hope to others. A ruptured appendix
brought her close to death. Though she knew she was going to be fine, her
family was afraid she would die. Eventually, she recovered and gave hope and
encouragement to another critically injured girl in the same hospital ward.
Her father instilled in her the call to love and take care of the less fortunate;
however, for most of her life, Donzaleigh felt the need to serve her father
since he was always serving others. In 1989, Ralph David told Donzaleigh she
had to move to Los Angeles from Atlanta and start living her own life. He
felt that her taking care of him was hindering the call God had for her life.
She left Atlanta for Los Angeles. As she was driving cross-country, she heard
a voice telling her that she had to tell the story and that she would be an
actress. Not long afterward, Donzaleigh began working on the book Partners
to History and she started getting work as an actress in Los Angeles.
In 1990 Rev. Ralph David Abernathy died. When Donzaleigh was at her fathers
casket, she told him that she would follow Jesus.
Following the Father's Footsteps
Donzaleigh had been twice told by God to tell the story of Ralph David and
Martin Luther King Jr.; thus, Partners to History was born. It is a
personal account of the Civil Rights Movement and faith in God, much of it
told in the words of Ralph David and Martin Luther King Jr., along with poignant
photograghs. A teacher told her that students who cannot read well are able
to learn about the Civil Rights Movement through the photographs in the book.
Donzaleigh has been in several major film and television productions, such
as Gods and Generals, Don King: Only in America, Miss Evers
Boys, Chicago Hope, Murder in Mississippi, and EZ Streets. Before
each acting scene she says, 'Jesus, Savior, pilot me,' giving the Lord control.
Donzaleigh knows that God is in control and she is not. During the L.A. Riots,
she first became involved in serving the less fortunate in her community.
She began to distribute groceries to people in the city when stores were burned
down. Later, she became reaquainted with Glenn Smiley, who taught her father
and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the principles of nonviolence shortly after
the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the late 1950s. This led to
a series of events that eventually established New Road Schools, which tries
to encourage diversity and tolerance in its curriculum.
Whatever her endeavor, Donzaleigh tries to follow the example of faith in
God she learned from her father.
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