'He lost a brother': Widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's best friend shares their bond

Channel 2's Mark Winne spoke with Abernathy's widow, Juanita, in a sit down interview. Juanita Abernathy says her husband heard the shot that killed King. When he saw the soles of his shoes, that’s when he realized what he heard, which sounded like a firecracker, was a shot.

Mrs. Abernathy says her husband's life was forever impacted by Dr. King's assassination.

The memories of Memphis never left Rev. Abernathy, nothing was ever the same
after he cradled his best friend, his partner and frequent cellmate in the Civil Rights Movement.

They were like brothers.

"He grieved as though he had lost a blood brother. He really mourned," Mrs. Abernathy said.

Mrs. Abernathy says the two men knew each other as students in Atlanta even before Rev. Abernathy helped usher Dr. King into the forefront of the Montgomery Bus Boycott when both were young pastors in 1955 and two years later they led the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference together.

That same night she indicated her home was bombed.

"It was a God-fearing effort," she said.


She says in 1968, Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, spent the night at the Abernathy home before the two men left for Memphis. It was King's last night in Atlanta.

And she was still home when Mrs. King called to say her husband had been shot.

"We were family," she said.

When the radio carried the news that Dr. King had died, Mrs. Abernathy says she and the three children she had at the time were on the way to Hartsfield airport to meet mrs. King to fly to Memphis.

"They started screaming and hollering. 'Oh my, Uncle Martin is dead. Uncle Martin is dead,'" she said.

So, instead, Mrs. Abernathy met Mrs. King at the King home.

"I spent the night there," she said.

Then and now, she says she's been sustained by the same thing that guided her husband and Dr. King: faith in God.

"We knew we had God on our side. Christ died on the cross, and if He could die on the cross for us, why can’t we stand up?" she said.

It has been 50 years since King was assassinated. 

To mark this important anniversary, Channel 2 Action News , the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB Radio have teamed up to produce special coverage.

It began with the airing of WSB-TV documentary, “The Last Days of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Channel 2 Action News and WSB Radio covered the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago, and now bring you the most comprehensive coverage on the anniversary.

In-depth stories, interviews with witnesses to history, the most extensive archive of photos, audio and video and extensive team coverage of Dr. King's far reaching impact.

It will culminate on April 9, the date five decades ago that the world paused to observe the funeral and burial of King in Atlanta.   

Channel 2 Action News , The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  and WSB Radio will reach back into their collective archives to put contemporary audiences in touch with a volatile time in our nation’s history.

The AJC is publishing a special section of historic front pages, photos and commentary. 

WSB Radio is sharing commentary from legendary voices, speaking to the struggle of time. 

Today, Channel 2 Action News will bring viewers live reports from Memphis, Washington, D.C., and here in Atlanta, where thousands are expected to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King. 

The extensive archives of Channel 2 Action News , the AJC and WSB Radio includes rare video, photos and reports on Dr. King and the civil rights movement, which will take viewers back to that day. 

At 7:01 p.m., the moment King was shot, church bells across the city will ring 39 times for his 39 years of life. 

At 8:04 p.m., Channel 2 Action News will hold a moment of silence on-air and across our digital platforms. 

Some of the people closest with King will tell their stories and most special memories including his daughter, Bernice King, and former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young. They will also talk about how King's legacy is still having major impact. 

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