By S.J. Grady
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs Office
The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was celebrated Jan. 9 in the Patch Chapel with an observance organized by the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Equal Opportunity Office and military equal opportunity leaders.
The Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday, held on the third Monday in January, is meant to commemorate the civil rights leader’s birthday. But according to guest speaker Juandalynn R. Abernathy, the day not only honors King, but all who worked and sacrificed for freedom and equality.
Abernathy is the daughter of Dr. Ralph D. Abernathy, pastor, civil rights leader, partner and close friend of King.
She was practically born into the civil rights movement, just barely a year old when her father and King organized the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott in response to the arrest of Rosa Parks for her refusal to give up her seat in the front of a city bus.
A professional soprano and concert singer, Abernathy has resided in Germany for 30 years. She lives with her husband and 16-year old son in Balingen, about 45 minutes from Stuttgart.
For the second year in a row, Abernathy spoke to the Stuttgart military community about the civil rights movement and how it brought the Abernathy and King families together.
From the beginning of the bus boycott, the Abernathy and King families became a close-knit group.
“I knew Martin Luther King as Uncle Martin. I knew him as well as I knew my father,” she told the audience. Abernathy added she and her four siblings and the four King children grew up together, were best friends, and even participated in the integration of their nursery and elementary schools.
She described aspects of her childhood: When she was 2, at the end of the boycott in 1957, her home and her father’s church was bombed. She was a witness to the 1963 Civil Rights march on Washington, and in 1965, participated in the Selma to Montgomery march.
Abernathy said that she, her siblings and the King children grew up in a wonderful but difficult time.
“We had so much fun together. Yet we grew up in fear, never knowing if our house would be bombed again. We never knew if our fathers were going to come home. We worried about it, but we kept on … grounded in our family life and our religion.”
At the end of her speech, Abernathy responded to questions from the audience, and spoke candidly on the need for black leadership in the U.S. and on the recently released movie, “Selma.”