Civil Rights Giants

Two notable men deserve a nod today, both giants of the civil rights movement: Ralph Abernathy (March 11, 1926 – April 17, 1990) and Whitney Young (July 31, 1921 – March 11, 1971).

Ralph Abernathy was a minister and a close friend to Martin Luther King Jr. He worked with King, traveled with him and enjoyed leisure time together, and when King was shot, Abernathy held him in his arms while he died. After King's death, Abernathy took the lead in the civil rights movement, serving as a champion for all who lacked a voice – minorities, the working poor, the hungry, and more. He was a powerful force for equality, but he was also gentle and reflective, as when he remembered the peaceful aftermath of his Poor People's Campaign.

Whitney Young worked to effect change from within.

As the head of the National Urban League, he turned the organization from a small and cautious one to a leader in the civil rights movement. He worked with major corporations to change their hiring practices, bringing more African-Americans and women into good jobs. He advised Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon, fostering a connection between their office and the civil rights movement. As Nixon said at Young's funeral, "he knew how to accomplish what other people were merely for."

When we remember the legacies of the civil rights leaders of the 1960s, these are two who should always be on our minds.