Juanita Abernathy, civil rights advocate who helped plan boycotts, other efforts, dead at 88

Published 9:31 pm Thursday, September 12, 2019

Juanita Abernathy, who wrote the business plan for the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and took other influential steps in helping to build the American civil rights movement, died Thursday. She was 88.

Family spokesman James Peterson confirmed Abernathy died at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta following complications from a stroke. In a statement, Peterson said Abernathy died surrounded by her three children and four grandchildren.

The widow of the Rev. Dr. Ralph Abernathy, Juanita Abernathy worked alongside him and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others for the right to vote. She also taught voter education classes, housed Freedom Riders and marched on Washington, D.C., in 1963 seeking passage of what became the Civil Rights Act. Abernathy also was a national sales director for Mary Kay Cosmetics.

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Abernathy, of Uniontown, Alabama, was the youngest of eight children. She was educated at Selma University Prep School, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business education from Tennessee State University.

For 16 years, Abernathy served on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. She also served on the board of the Fulton County Development Authority and on the Board of Directors for Introducing Youth to American Infrastructure.

Abernathy was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Award from the National Education Association.

Survivors include her children, Juandalynn Abernathy, Donzaleigh Abernathy and Kwame Abernathy and grandchildren, Ralph Abernathy IV, Christiana Abernathy, Micah Abernathy and Soeren-Niklas Haderup.

Funeral arrangements are pending.