Aug 28, 2013
By Cory Hall, UC Sports Communications
Fifty years ago, on Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and game his historic "I Have A Dream Speech."
Standing by his side, as he was through most of the American Civil Rights movement, was his deputy and friend, Ralph David Abernathy Sr., the grandfather of University of Cincinnati running back and kick returner Ralph David Abernathy IV.
Growing up, most of us heard stories about the World Wars and how it impacted our grandparents, but Abernathy IV grew up listening to stories about how his grandfather walked hand-in-hand with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Following the assassination of Dr. King in Memphis, Tenn. on April 4, 1968, the late Abernathy Sr. was the one who took the reins of the civil rights movement, and his son, Ralph David Abernathy III, stood at his side.
“It’s a very special day for me because my family was right next to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fighting for equality and civil rights,” said Ralph David Abernathy IV. “The things they did are such a big part of our history and has allowed myself and my teammates to be where we are right now.”
Standing up for equality put the Abernathy family in the crosshairs, but the road paved during that time has allowed Abernathy IV and many other African-Americans to reach their dreams. Being on the frontline was not always easy for the Abernathy’s.
“My dad always told me stories when I was growing up, like when he was arrested at the age of five-years old or when his parents home was firebombed before he was born,” Abernathy IV. “It is just crazy that I am connected to all that history, and my family experienced everything first hand. It makes me appreciate what they accomplished that much more.”
Now a junior for the Bearcats, Abernathy IV is viewed as a leader for Cincinnati much like his grandfather was viewed by many African-Americans, and he has accepted the role wholeheartedly.
“Being a leader is in my blood,” said Abernathy IV. “Every day, I consciously think about how I can be a better leader and continue to help this team, and right now, that is by working my hardest every day and helping the younger guys when needed.”
Serving as a leader on the field has come easy for Abernathy IV as he has compiled over 2,500 all-purpose yards and become one of the most explosive players across the conference. But when Abernathy IV looks at his career as a whole, one play sticks out more than anything. That play is a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the 2011 AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., the same city where his grandfather cradled Dr. King as he drew his last breath.
“It was just an amazing feeling because of all the history Memphis holds, and a lot of my family was there to witness it,” Abernathy IV said. “After the game, my grandmother told me that there were some special people watching over me that day, and I honestly believe that.”
Before the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis served as a reminder to Abernathy IV of a place that his grandfather clung on to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That memory is now accompanied by a team made up of black players and white players celebrating the triumph of a common goal.
With the departure of George Winn, Abernathy IV is the new leader of the running backs group. You could say that his transition to the top is similar to that of his grandfathers 50 years ago, and if Abernathy IV is half as successful as his grandfather, the Bearcats running core will be a difficult scheme to stop.
Cincinnati, under the direction of head coach Tommy Tuberville
, opens the 2013 season Saturday against Purdue inside a sold-out Nippert Stadium at noon.