Abernathy has a lifetime of civil rights stories to tell


Donzaleigh Abernathy will be coming to the University of Southern Mississippi for the Armstrong-Branch Distinguished Lecture Series to discuss her experiences with the Civil Rights Movement. 


Abernathy grew up in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement as the daughter of Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy and Juanita Jones Abernathy, who are the co-founders of the American Civil Rights Movement.  


“It says that people are destined to repeat it and although we’ve only pretty much been free 15 years in my lifetime, here in the United States of America our young people of color don’t know our history,” Abernathy said.  


The Armstrong-Branch Distinguished Lecture Series is an annual event that started in 1993. The series was set in place to honor the legacy of Raylawni Adams Branch and Gwendolyn E. Armstrong Chamberlin as the first African American women to enroll at The University of Southern Mississippi.  


In 2013, Dr. Eddie A. Holloway, Dean of Students and Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, proposed the idea to co-sponsor the lecture with the Honors College and gap together Academics and Student Affairs in promotion for the event.  


Delores McNair is an assistant dean of students of student outreach and support. She is also the program coordinator for the Armstrong-Branch Distinguished Lecture Series.  


“This will be the 30th year that we are hosting it here on campus. Both honorees are still alive and well and they do attend the event. What we do is bring in a speaker as a guest lecturer to present,” McNair said.  


The speakers come to talk about their experiences, their historical perspectives and things happening in today’s society.  


“We want to educate our students and attendees on the historical aspect, but we also want to make it relevant to what’s currently happening in society,” McNair said.  


The Armstrong-Branch Distinguished Lectures Series’ past speakers were James Brown of CBS Sports, Clifton Taulbert, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Merlie Evers-Williams, Jasmine Guy, Wil Haygood, Kathleen Cleaver, and Angie Juzang.  


Abernathy is the leading actress for the Warner Bros. Civil War epic Gods and Generals. She also was the leading actress for the Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning HBO film Don King – Only In America.  


She starred in NBC’s DGA Award-winning movie, Murder in Mississippi, and Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Miss Evers Boys 


Abernathy recurred in series such as Shooter, Suits, The Walking Dead, Lincoln Heights, Commander in Chief, EZ Streets, and Dangerous Minds.  


Abernathy is a part of the four-year acclaimed Lifetime Television series Any Day Now. She also did an episode on the television series 9-1-1.  


In 2004, she wrote a history book, Partners To History, Martin Luther King, Ralph David Abernathy and the Civil Rights Movement. The book was nominated by The American Library Association. It was nominated as the best book for young adults.  


I realize I need to do it because there are books out there about our history and our young people don’t know them. And so you know, they don’t know what was done for their freedom,” Abernathy said.  


Abernathy was inspired to write the book when her father passed away on April 17, 1990.  


“I was devastated. I never thought that I could live in the world without my dad. He made it possible for us to be free and to be the first time that black people were free literally in the United States of America.  


Abernathy said her dad not only gave her freedom, he also gave her God.  


“He was my counselor and so I need to write about him in order to have him close to me every day,” Abernathy said.  


Abernathy will speak about her experiences and memories at the Armstrong-Branch Distinguished Lectures Series on March 7 in the Thad Cochran Center Ballrooms at 7:00 pm.