After Many Pages of MLK Coverage, WashPost Finally Notices How Ralph Abernathy's Painted Out of the King History

The "civil rights" elite are still putting the memory of Martin Luther King's lieutenant Ralph Abernathy into the deep freeze. On September 1, four days after all the 50th anniversary events were done and after many Post pages were filled with gauzy memories, Washington Post reporter Michael Fletcher noticed that "save for an invitation to a White House reception that she said came too late to accept, [his widow Juanita] Abernathy was not asked to be part of the festivities."

"I was no more invited than if I were dead," she said. Remember Bryant Gumbel sneering "print the legend" at Abernathy? These black preachers like Al Sharpton aren't in the forgiveness business:

After an assassin's bullet cut King down in Memphis in 1968, he died in Abernathy's arms.

But Abernathy stirred the ire of many civil rights leaders because of what they saw as his shaky stewardship of SCLC after King's death. He also came under heavy criticism for recounting in his autobiography King's alleged infidelities.

"I watched a lot of the coverage, and they never even called his name, and that is so unfair for somebody who gave so much," said Abernathy's widow, who marched many times with King and her husband and sat on the second row of the speaker's platform during the original March on Washington. "There is not a door where civil rights is concerned that has been opened in this country that Ralph Abernathy was not part of."

Fletcher wrote about how Abernathy struggled with how much more famous King was, and Abernathy didn't even a speaking slot at the first March on Washington (unlike 23-year-old John Lewis). He even said King tried to "comfort" Abernathy by mocking his eating habits, according to Andrew Young. ‘I know, we'll form an organization and nobody can beat you. You will be the champion and we'll form the National Association of the Advancement of Eatin' Chicken,' " Young recalled King saying. "Ralph was a big eater." Then Abernathy's offenses against the Left were discussed:

He later ran an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. House, and then went on to support conservative Ronald Reagan for president in 1980, drawing the wrath of many black leaders. He drew an even harsher rebuke after publishing his 1989 autobiography, "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down."

The book contained discussion of King's alleged extramarital affairs on the night before his assassination. Although other authors had made reference to King's alleged womanizing, Abernathy seemed to pay a particularly steep price.

A long roster of prominent black leaders accused him of being a traitor to his longtime friend as well as to the movement that they both helped mobilize. Black leaders sent Abernathy a telegram warning that the book could "rob you of your place in history."

David J. Garrow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning King biographer, called it "incredibly sad" that a movement veteran such as Abernathy would be "ignored and forgotten" during the recent celebration of one of the movement's greatest moments.

"In the larger arc of history, people should be remembered and celebrated for the best things they have done, not punished for the two or three worst," he said.

It's pretty sad that you can start race riots and foment the Tawana Brawley hoax and be the main attraction at the King anniversary festivities. But the widow of one of King's closest associates sat at home and watched on TV as no one breathed a word about her husband.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis