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Rep. Lewis on the Passing of Civil Rights Icon Mrs. Juanita Abernathy

September 12, 2019
Press Release

I was saddened to hear about the passing of Mrs. Juanita Abernathy today, the wife of the late Reverend David Abernathy, the right hand to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Juanita could have lived a comfortable life.  Her father was a prosperous dairyman and cotton farmer in Uniontown, Alabama who could afford to send her to a boarding school in Selma in the 1940s.  But she decided to dedicate her life to building a society more at peace with itself, to the advocacy for simple justice, and a commitment to the public good.  She worked tirelessly toward goals that were bigger than herself, and because she did she will go down in history as an icon for equal justice in America.

Juanita marched on the front lines of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, was a cornerstone of the Montgomery Busy Boycott, and a fearless advocate, in her own right, for non-violent direct action.  Her life is a testament to the towering role that women played in the Civil Rights Movement.  The men received most of the credit, but behind the scenes women were often the doers, the organizers, and advocates, who formed the backbone of the struggle.  Juanita Abernathy was no exception and was often a shining example.

She endured the terrorism of harassing telephone calls to her home, threats on her life and her husband’s life, the doubts of naysayers who feared the movement would fail, the sleepless nights of worry and the suffered the slings and arrows of hate that were a part of non-violent change in this country.  She somehow survived the bombing of her home in Montgomery while she was home alone with her infant child.  But because Juanita Abernathy was bold, courageous, outspoken and deeply committed to the cause of social justice, we all live in a better country today than we did almost 65 years ago.  Juanita Abernathy was a dear friend and my sister on the frontlines, in the struggle for change.  My heart goes out to her children, Juandalynn, Kwame and Donzaleigh.  Their mother was one of a kind, and she will be deeply missed.