Donzaleigh Abernathy Highlights MLK Events

Raised on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement, Donzaleigh Abernathy will lecture about growing up with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
Posted on January 17th, 2020 by

Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy was a leader of the American Civil Rights movement and a close friend of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Together, they made history in the United States with their nonviolent social movement. On May 2, 1975, Rev. Dr. Abernathy visited Gustavus Adolphus College to speak on his experience during the Civil Rights era.

Forty-five years later, his daughter, Donzaleigh Abernathy, will share what it was like for her as she spent her childhood surrounded by some of the most influential leaders of the time as the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Celebration speaker at Gustavus. Her lecture, Growing Up with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., will take place on Monday, January 20 at 10 a.m. in Christ Chapel.

Donzaleigh Abernathy

Donzaleigh Abernathy

Since 1986, Gustavus has hosted speakers annually who are champions of civil rights in remembrance and honor of Dr. King. As the daughter of the Civil Rights movement co-founder, this year’s speaker spent her formative years attending major civil rights marches and rallies. As a child, Donzaleigh participated in the March on Washington, the Freedom Riders, The Chicago Housing Demonstrations, and the Selma to Montgomery March for the Right to Vote.

“Donzaleigh brings a perspective and experiences that few are able to offer.  As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s closest friend and adviser, few individuals spent more time with him than Rev. Dr. Ralph Abernathy,” said Thomas Flunker, Director of the Gustavus Center for Inclusive Excellence. “Providing opportunities to take a deeper look into the history, logistics, and people that either significantly impacted the Civil Rights movement or whose lives were significantly impacted by it can often help offer perspectives and details that add to the bigger story.”

Bruce Gray ’61 worked in admission, financial aid, and student life at Gustavus and was one of Rev. Dr. Ralph Abernathy’s on-campus hosts for his 1975 visit to campus. “Rev. Abernathy was touring colleges around the country and we were fortunate have him at Gustavus,” said Gray, who began recruiting students in the Deep South in the early ‘60s and authored a book, Black and Bold, that describes the history of African-American students at Gustavus. “He spoke about the importance of young people getting involved if they wanted to see change in our society.”

A Gustavus Weekly article discusses Rev. Dr. Ralph Abernathy's 1975 visit to campus.

A Gustavus Weekly article discusses Rev. Dr. Ralph Abernathy’s 1975 visit to campus.

“That’s still true today,” Gray continued. “Now, we’re pleased to have Donzaleigh Abernathy join us at Gustavus to share her story.”

Abernathy is a talented keynote speaker, author, and actress. Some of her past speaking engagements include the National Association of Women Judges annual conference and United Nations Women’s Federation for World Peace. Her book, Partners to History, Martin Luther King, Ralph David Abernathy, and the Civil Rights Movement, was nominated for the Best Book for Young Adults award. She has received the Tanne Foundation Award for her play script entitled “Birmingham Sunday.” She has held roles in many television shows and movies, such as Any Day Now and Lincoln Heights.

Following the morning lecture, facilitated discussions will be held across campus on Monday afternoon and Tuesday to continue conversations about building authentic community across racial, religious, and ethnic differences. Abernathy’s lecture is free and open to the public and will take place on Monday, January 20 at 10 a.m. in Christ Chapel. For those who are unable to attend, the lecture will be livestreamed and archived on the Gustavus website.

Monday’s events will conclude with Mankato’s 36th annual MLK Community Celebration and presentation of the Pathfinder Award beginning at 5:30 p.m. To learn more about the evening event and request tickets, visit the Greater Mankato Diversity Council website.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture is co-sponsored by the Center for Inclusive Excellence, Office of the Chaplains, Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies Program, Office of the President, Office of Marketing and Communication, Mankato MLK Committee, and Minnesota State University, Mankato.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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