Donzaleigh Abernathy calls for love amidst a world of hate


Abigail Troth

Donzaleigh Abernathy during the Armstrong-Branch Lecture Series.

With a message of anti-violence and love, Donzaleigh Abernathy came to the University of Southern Mississippi for the 30th Annual Armstrong-Branch Lecture Series.

Donzaleigh Abernathy is the daughter of Rev. Ralph Abernathy, one of the founders of the American Civil Rights Movement. Alongside that, she is also the goddaughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. During the lecture, Abernathy discussed her experiences with the Civil Rights Movement and what it was like to experience the movement firsthand. 

Abernathy discussed the origins of the movement, and how her father met Dr. King. Through mentorship and honor, Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy became two close friends that inspired Abernathy’s own life. 

Abernathy told the story of how her home was bombed shortly before her birth as a result of racism and prejudice towards her father. While those in the home escaped with their lives, the effect proved that they could not slow down the battle to defend equal rights. Abernathy watched firsthand as her family traveled to Washington, D.C. for the infamous Civil Rights March on Washington in August 1963, where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” Speech. One year after this speech and march, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. 

Even after this famous speech, the fight was still not over. Abernathy even recalled her experience at the notorious Selma to Montgomery March in March 1965, where Black people marched to earn the constitutional right to vote. She walked close to her father and her Uncle Martin (as she called him), and stood hand-in-hand with her siblings. The Selma to Montgomery March was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, as it later led to President Johnson passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Abernathy (in the striped sweater on the far left) walks in the Selma to Montgomery March alongside her siblings and Dr. King, who is standing in the middle wearing a hat.

While Abernathy told these stories, she still delivered one message above all: love. “It’s a long road that we’ve gone down, but it’s not over. There’s a division in America today, and it’s time for a reconciliation.” said Abernathy during the lecture. 

During the lecture, Abernathy explained the story of how she found peace amongst those who had treated her poorly for the color of her skin, and how she even developed a deep relationship with Peggy Wallace, daughter of former Alabama governor and known segregationist George Wallace. 

“Tears started streaming down my face because the power of forgiveness is something great. If my dad could forgive George Wallace, who am I to say that I can’t forgive?” Abernathy said about Peggy Wallace. 

Despite the hate that Abernathy acknowledged exists in this world, she still refuses to express hate or violence. Abernathy fondly recalls her father and Dr. King’s love throughout the messages she teaches to the world. 

Even in places like Mississippi, where blatant hate could be so prevalent, Abernathy knew that there is still love and honor to be recognized in this state. Mississippi had a hefty role in the Civil Rights Movement, and Abernathy recognized the importance of being in such a state. 

“It was tremendous. It was huge. It’s Mississippi, and so much happened in Mississippi, so I thought it was more important than ever. I had a come-to-Jesus moment within my soul. I mean, I’m honored.” Abernathy said. 

At the end of her lecture, Abernathy continued to enforce a lesson of love in this world, and admitted that we cannot stop the fight for equality. She recognized that we are all human, and therefore must not turn on each other. 

“What can you do? What are you going to do? We need a healing in America right now. We need a healing going on in the Heartland. We need a healing going on in Mississippi.” 

Abernathy believes that there is not enough hate in this world to stop the battle for equality for the oppressed. Even in a world with hateful speakers such as Kanye West (who Abernathy quickly expressed her opinions for), the fight for an equal world full of love for all cannot slow down. 

“But it’s on you all. Do your part, Mississippi. Do your part, Hattiesburg. I’m counting on you.”