Juanita Abernathy, who wrote the business plan for the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and was at the forefront of the civil rights movement with her husband, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, died Sept. 12 at a hospital in Atlanta. She was 89.
She had complications from a stroke, said a family spokesman, James Peterson.
Mrs. Abernathy worked alongside her husband and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and survived a bombing of the family’s home in Montgomery, Ala., in 1957. She was home alone with her daughter and pregnant with another daughter at the time. The Baptist church where her husband was a pastor was destroyed by a bomb the same night.
King described Ralph Abernathy, who died in 1990, as his “closest associate and most trusted friend.” Ralph Abernathy was jailed on several occasions and was standing next to King when King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.
Mrs. Abernathy had a part in several significant events of the civil rights movement, including her role in the Montgomery bus boycott, which began after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man and was arrested. The boycott lasted more than a year and resulted in a Supreme Court ruling that outlawed racial segregation in public transportation.
Mrs. Abernathy took part in the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery in support of voting rights and led voter education programs.
“I started when there were no cameras and no newspapers writing nice things about you, instead they were writing all sorts of ugly things,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2013. “But we kept going.”
Juanita Odessa Jones was born in Uniontown, Ala., and was a graduate of Tennessee State University. She taught high school business education classes and was a secretary for the Alabama chapter of the NAACP.
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She and Ralph Abernathy were married in 1952. They had five children.
Mrs. Abernathy was a national sales director for Mary Kay Cosmetics and helped found a Quaker Friends school in Atlanta. She lobbied for the national food stamp program and free school meals for needy students and traveled widely as a public speaker.
At the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, she was seated on the dais beside two former presidents, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.
Survivors include three children; a sister; and four grandchildren.
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