Pictures from the Civil Rights Movement provided the backdrop as Donzaleigh Abernathy spoke in Shepherd Union Ballroom B on Wednesday afternoon. A television and movie actress, Abernathy is the daughter of late civil rights activist Ralph David Abernathy, a close friend and associate of Martin Luther King Jr.
Showing pictures of her father and King with their heads together, Abernathy remarked that is how she always knew them.
“It’s not that I’m a great person; I just happened to be born into a great family,” she said in regards to her work in the Civil Rights Movement.
Abernathy spoke to students and members of the community on the topic of King’s birthday. She shared her experiences growing up during the Civil Rights Movement and her relationship with King, who she referred to as “Uncle Martin.”
“I don’t want you to think he’s a just a monument that sits Washington, or that he’s a holiday or a street or a school . . . there’s a man under that,” she told the crowd.
Abernathy said her father met King at a concert. King was speaking with the woman who had just lied to her father about having a cold and not being able to make their scheduled date. From that point on, Abernathy said, her father and King were inseparable.
Abernathy’s stories ranged from lighthearted ones about her brother spoiling King’s birthday surprise to grisly ones of bombs and death threats. She told of when the Ku Klux Klan placed a bomb near a bathroom at a church, killing four girls. Abernathy said she lived in fear that another bomb would go off.
“I would urinate on myself every single day in kindergarten, because if I went to the bathroom the bomb would go off, I was sure,” she shared.
Priscilla Frias, a Weber State University senior, said she was impressed with the impact King and Ralph Abernathy had. “Everyone says always we can make a difference, but just how simple it is to strive for what for you believe in, and if you keep pushing for it, you never know what can happen.”
Adrienne Andrews, WSU assistant to the president for diversity, said she brought Abernathy to WSU in order for students to experience history from those who lived it.
“The traditional-age student, they were born in the ’90s, the ’50s and ’60s,” Andrews said. “(The) ’70s really seems like history, but the reality (is) it’s living history. The people who went through those struggles, who experienced those changes, who really were activists for change, are still alive and their stories are incredibly relevant, and we need to realize how new those rights and freedom for people are.”
The speech kicked off the Martin Luther King Week of Service beginning Jan. 20. Starting with the breakfast and freedom march, there will be service opportunities for students to give back to the community all week. Students are welcome to check with the Center of Diversity and Unity or the Center for Community Engaged Learning to see what service opportunities are available next week.
Teresa Holt, programing director at the WSU Center of Diversity and Unity, said she hoped the speech would inspire students.
“I’m hoping that people take away the importance of giving back and civil rights,” she said.