Her family called her the "last remaining person who was actively involved from ‘day one' of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Civil Rights Movement."

‘She never wavered’

Juanita Abernathy, the wife of the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy and one of the last stalwarts who helped birth the modern civil rights movement, has died. 

Following are statements on her passing from notable Atlantans of the civil rights era as well as national dignitaries:

• “The amazing thing about Juanita was she has been on the front line since 1955, and she never wavered.” – Ambassador Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor and key figure in the American civil rights movement.

Juanita Jones Abernathy  widow of Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, fixes the tie of former US Ambassador as  Coretta Scott King,  inspects the situation. RICH ADDICKS/STAFF
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

• “She lived under the pressure, but she was a good listener and very smart. She was a woman of dignity and discipline. And she always treated me as an older son.”  - The Rev. Jesse Jackson, former presidential candidate and founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Juanita Abernathy treated him like a son.

• “Juanita could have lived a comfortable life…, 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.” - U.S. Rep. John Lewis, and former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

John Lewis, Ralph Abernathy Sr. and Juanita Abernathy during the Selma to Montgomery Campaign for Voting Rights in 1965. Lewis would later be elected to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives decades after surviving a brutal beating during the first attempted Selma to Montgomery march. The Abernathy children — Juandalynn, Ralph III and Donzaleigh — hold hands in the foreground. They were some of the many children on the front lines of the civil rights movement. (courtesy of Donzaleigh Abernathy)
Juanita Jones Abernathy, widow of Ralph David Abernathy, talks outside West Hunter Baptist Church on February 10, 2016. The National Park Service was studying whether or not old West Hunter Baptist Church should be considered a National Historic Site. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

• “With grit and grace, Juanita Abernathy served tirelessly for the cause of freedom and justice.” – Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Chief Executive Officer of The King Center.

Bernice King and Martin King III’s parents were close friends with Juanita Abernathy and her husband, Ralph David Abernathy. (Ernie Suggs/AJC)

• “Juanita Abernathy participated in the kitchen-table strategy sessions that led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and inspired the march toward freedom and equal rights for African-Americans. For her fearless activism, she endured the wrath of white-supremacist threats and bombings. As a mother, teacher and Atlanta community icon, Mrs. Abernathy will be remembered as a role model whose life example forever serves as a beacon of love, commitment and justice.” – Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon in June. (Casey Sykes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Casey Sykes/Casey Sykes

• “Juanita Abernathy was a pioneer in the fight for civil rights. She will be missed, but her legacy will live on.” - U.S. Rep Barry Loudermilk.

Juanita Abernathy dedicated her life to meeting the critical needs of all people and ensuring justice and access for all. She served MARTA’s board with distinction from 2001 to 2017, not only as board secretary and treasurer, but as trusted advisor, voice of the community and conscientious collaborator. Mrs. Abernathy was an advocate for transit equality and helped to shape our goals and vision, especially with respect to customer experience.” - MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker.

MARTA General Manager/CEO Jeffrey Parker boards a train at the Five Points station. Juanita Abernathy served on the MARTA board for more than 15 years. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

• “Thank you for making this world a better place for all people of all backgrounds. We will continue to march for justice with you in our hearts.” - Martin Luther King III, son of Martin Luther King Jr.

Ralph Abernathy Sr., his wife Juanita Abernathy, Ralph Bunche (who was the first African-American to win a Nobel Peace Prize), Ralph Abernathy III, Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King on the final day of the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965. (courtesy of Donzaleigh Abernathy)

• “Juanita Abernathy’s pursuit for equality will never be ignored, and we will forever honor her by remembering her commitment and service to humanity.” – Atlanta City Council President Felicia A. Moore.

Atlanta City council president Felicia Moore. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

• “Juanita Jones Abernathy’s contributions to this nation, city and her overwhelming spirit with her husband the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy during the civil rights movement were legendary. Without the sacrifices of Mrs. Abernathy and those of countless others who shouldered the burden of civil rights for all, my service as a council member today would not have been possible. She left an indelible impression on my life.” – Post 1 At-Large Atlanta City Council member Michael Julian Bond and son of civil rights leader Julian Bond.

Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond.
Photo: Kent D. Johnson

“As a child of the civil rights movement, I grew up in the Abernathy home. She and my mother were best friends for 50 years. I was privileged to have a front row seat to my Aunt Juanita’s bold approach to change. She was a strategic thinker who led with elegance and grace. She was a fierce warrior for peace and justice. She was proud and unafraid to stand on the front lines so that generations could experience freedom and have a chance at equality.” – District 10 Atlanta City Council member Andrea Boone, and daughter of civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph E. Boone.

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