ralph david abernathy

ATLANTA — Ralph David Abernathy III, the former Georgia state senator who was the sociopolitical heir to his father, the iconic Ralph David Abernathy Jr., the most famous confidante of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., passed away at age 56.

Abernathy III reportedly succumbed to complications caused by colon cancer, which had been diagnosed five years ago and had eventually spread to his liver. He died two days short of his 57th birthday.

Mayor Kasim Reed was taken aback by the passing of this prominent Atlanta figure, nevertheless praised Abernathy III for his work in furthering the work of his father, whose namesake graces a street and highway in Atlanta.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ralph David Abernathy III.

“Mr. Abernathy’s father, Ralph David Abernathy, Jr., was one of Atlanta’s most esteemed and impactful residents. His work alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others in the fight for civil rights and equality improved life in Atlanta and the United States of America immeasurably. Ralph David Abernathy III carried on that legacy by serving the residents of Atlanta in the Georgia State Senate.

“He was known for his personal motto, ‘if the elevator to success is broken, take the stairs.’ His work ethic and his commitment to the ideals of his father meant he could not sit idly by when confronted with injustice, and he worked tirelessly throughout his career to protect children and strengthen families.

On behalf of all the residents of the City of Atlanta, I extend my deepest condolences to the Abernathy family.”

Abernathy was the son of Ralph David Abernathy Jr., a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and close friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The younger Abernathy served as a Democrat in both the Georgia House and Senate.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis noted his long relationship with Abernathy. “I have known him ever since he was a child and watched him grow up to become a public servant, a leader and an advocate for the preservation of his father’s legacy,” Lewis said.

Atlanta City Councilman C.T. Martin called Abernathy’s passing is a loss for everyone concerned about human rights. The councilman also said he was concerned about the future of the church that bears his father’s name and the plaza project. He reportedly envisioned a plaza that featured a statue of his father and wife, Dr. King and Coretta Scott King and Congressman Lewis
“He was a long-time advocate for civil rights and human rights in our city,” Martin said. “He will be sadly missed.”

Abernathy enjoyed a successful political career in the Georgia state legislature, in both the House and the Senate, until he was convicted in 1998 on 35 felony charges for false reimbursement requests to the Legislature and other improprieties. Abernathy a year of a four-year prison sentence.

Funeral arrangements for Abernathy are still being worked out, the family stated.

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