Juanita Abernathy, civil rights icon, has died at age 89

Juanita Abernathy, widow of Ralph David Abernathy, has died at age 89.

A family member confirmed to WSB-TV that Abernathy died of natural causes Thursday.

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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."

Juanita Abernathy came of age as a civil rights icon right at the dawn of the modern movement. She was the young wife of Rev. Abernathy, who was a pastor in a church in Montgomery. The couple got to know another young preacher and his wife, Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King. Their friendship and activism helped reshape America's cultural and political landscape.

It was at the Abernathys' kitchen table, often following a meal prepared by Juanita Abernathy, that the early strategies of the Civil Rights Movement – particular the Montgomery Bus Boycott – were hatched.

"When I started off in '55 in Montgomery, recognition and honor was nowhere in my mind," Abernathy told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a 2013 article. "I started when there were no cameras and no newspapers writing nice things about you, instead they were writing all sorts of ugly things. But we kept going. It wasn't about us. It wasn't about me. It has always been about right and righteousness. Justice and equality. Not just for me and my family, but for all of God's children."

In January 1957 while Rev. Abernathy and Dr. King traveled to Atlanta to establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Abernathy and her infant daughter survived the bombing of their home by white supremacists.

Ralph David Abernathy died of heart attack in 1990 at age 64.

Juanita Abernathy continued working after the height of the movement and the deaths of many of its leaders, including serving on boards such as MARTA's and the Fulton County Development Authority.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this article. 

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