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The Abernathy name holds a lot of respect in the city of Atlanta. In history books, Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy Sr.'s name is written alongside that of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the top leaders of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. As the grandson of the respected reverend and activist, Falcons safety Micah Abernathy uses his NFL platform to shine a light on the legacy of his family.

This is the story of the Abernathy family's quest to restore a key piece of history to its former glory.

In the early-morning shadows of Mercedes-Benz Stadium sits an old stone church with a bright red door. 

When the light of day reaches its highest and brightest down Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., the sun pierces through the stained glass windows lining the sanctuary walls. Inside the building, echoes of history whisper through the corridors. This place, almost lost to history, was the strategic nerve center and spiritual haven of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Its pastor and leader at the time, Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy Sr., is the grandfather of Falcons safety Micah Abernathy, who plays most fall Sundays at that looming stadium right up the road. 

Long before that stadium was constructed, the old stone church was there, acting as a beacon of light in a dark period. 

Venturing back in time, the church's lifeblood was its people, a group of individuals both named and unnamed in history books that brought forth necessary change in America. 

The 1960s was a time of tumultuous fear and uncertainty for Black men, women and children across the nation, particularly in the South. In Atlanta, schools, businesses and churches were extremely hesitant to open their doors to the Civil Rights Movement and its cause. Not West Hunter Street Baptist Church, though. The stone church was filled to the brim with men, women and children all hard at work in a place soon referred to as the "think tank" of the movement. 

In the basement, young people were educated in the ways of nonviolent protests. Their bellies were filled as they learned and strategized. Women of the church, like Juanita Abernathy, made sure no one ever left the church hungry after a long day's work towards change. 

Up the stairs and into the sanctuary, prayers and Sunday sermons were spoken as the sun shone through the bright and brilliant stained glass windows. 

In a small, quaint office at the back of the church sat Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy Sr. and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on days too many to count. Two men, two friends, two leaders who spearheaded the Civil Rights Movement together, putting the wheels of change in motion in a church that, decades later, would need saving.

As years passed, the original West Hunter Street Baptist Church fell into the shadows of Atlanta and of history. The church sat vacant for decades. The roof began to crumble. The stones darkened with age. The floors cracked and creaked. The stained glass windows dusted over, and as years came and went, the sun's light struggled to break through. The only life within the walls were the rats, who took up residence in the abandoned building. 

This couldn't be the legacy of a place once warmed with love and light and hard work, Ralph David Abernathy III - son of the respected reverend - thought as a new century broke forth in Atlanta. So, nearly a decade ago, he and his wife Annette, parents to Micah Abernathy, embarked on a project to restore the church to its former glory. 

At first, Annette Abernathy said she couldn't even walk into the building because of the dirt and dinge. And, of course, the rats. 

Those first years of restoration were spent getting the building to a place of safety and cleanliness more than anything else. But with each board installed on the roof, each floorboard returned to its original state and each stone on the outside cleaned, glory of what once was soon within reach. 

It was a glory Ralph David Abernathy III never had the chance to see completed. He passed away from cancer in 2016, just a few years into the project and just two days before his 57th birthday. The restoration could have stopped then and there. It didn't. Annette Abernathy took over the project full time. 

In the years that followed, she would petition for grants, communicate and direct restoration crews. She sent those beloved stained glass windows to professionals in Virginia to bring the shine back. She would work to make the West Hunter Street Baptist Church a protected landmark. 

"This wasn't my vision," Annette Abernathy turned to her son as they stood together inside the historic church, "it was your father's."

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It's a journey she's still on. The church restoration is about 90% complete, and she hopes the process of getting the approval to name the church a historical landmark is almost at its end. She also has plans for a memorial to be placed adjacent to the church building itself. The memorial will be called, "Freedom Plaza," and it will honor many lost names of the movement, the foot soldiers, Annette Abernathy said, who fought the good fight without a single ounce of glory or recognition. 

Ultimately, she hopes the church will soon be filled with people once again, all learning the American history this church helped shape. 

Annette Abernathy may not be an Abernathy by blood – she married into the family, after all – but she played a major role in saving the church and, in part, the Abernathy legacy. She did so for her late husband and her in-laws, whose presence she feels within the walls of this church. But she also did all of this for her children, too, and for their legacy.

While all of this was happening, Micah Abernathy watched in the wings as his mom worked towards her goal as he worked towards his. 

As he stood in the restored sanctuary on a rainy day in December, his mom by his side, Micah Abernathy couldn't help but feel humbled. Not just by the history of this place but by the work done by his mom to restore it. 

The youngest of this generation, Micah Abernathy spent the least amount of time with his grandmother and father. His grandfather passed away well before he was born. The restoration of the church is Annette Abernathy's way of connecting her youngest son to his history and family legacy. 

"Not knowing his grandfather or hearing his grandfather's life legacy from his grandfather's voice, I feel like I am giving him that voice," Annette Abernathy said. "... I've been trying to get him caught up on all of that. His focus has been so much on career, on school and football, that he kind of moved away and gravitated to other interests, so it's bringing him back into the fold so he understands who he is, who he represents and what his expectation should be not just from an athletic perspective but from a community perspective, from a spiritual perspective."

None of this is lost on Micah Abernathy, who bears the family name on the back of his Atlanta Falcons jersey as he runs out of a smoke-filled tunnel in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sundays. Even as he makes his way through his NFL journey, he would never forget where he got his start. It's why he chose to honor his family and his mother's work by wearing cleats illustrated to represent the Abernathy Center when the Falcons played the Jets for My Cause My Cleats week in the NFL on Dec. 3. 

To represent and honor his family on a national stage? That was an easy decision. 

"It's my legacy," Micah Abernathy said. " … I feel like it's what I am supposed to do. It's what I want to do: Shining the light on my family instead of myself. I feel like this is who I am. This is what I am supposed to do, and it feels good doing it."

In one of the final sermons of his life, Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy Sr. opened his Bible to the Book of Micah. The intricate details of that sermon spoken by the reverend and civil rights activist faded into the memories of those in the congregation he spoke to more than 30 years ago, but the themes traveled onward. 

It's a book in which metaphors and stories have a basis in the idea of restoration. In the Book of Micah, it's a restoration of the soul, of God's people. In the case of the Abernathy family in 2023, they are in the final days of a restoration of their history. 

Micah Abernathy was named after the book that brought forth one of his grandfather's final sermons. In the Abernathy family, names and the weight they carry matter. 

​​"Micah's name was specifically chosen because of what Micah in the Bible reflected," Annette Abernathy said. "The Micah in the Bible is the Micah I gave birth to: An advocate for the poor, wanted to have world peace, the behavior of thinking of others before himself. I think he was divinely given that name, Micah, for those reasons."

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Annette Abernathy says she can see Ralph David Abernathy Sr. in her son. It's in his mannerisms. It's in that "Abernathy head," too, she laughs. Sometimes, in the right moment, history almost becomes her present. 

"The profile. If you look at him at the right angle, you can see his grandfather," Annette Abernathy said of her son. "... Some angles, in the way he stands and talks, he looks like his grandfather."

It was important for Annette and Ralph David Abernathy III that their children would know, respect and carry their family legacy, but would also be individuals in their own right first and foremost. That's something Micah Abernathy respects the most about his parents and the way they raised him. 

His dream of playing in the NFL was never too big or too daunting for the family. They welcomed the challenge and the journey. It's one that took Micah Abernathy out of Atlanta when he went to college at the University of Tennessee. It's a journey that dropped him in cities across the country as he bounced around various NFL teams. Micah Abernathy had stints with the Vikings, Buccaneers and Colts before finally landing with the Packers in 2022, when his play caught the attention of the Falcons. 

On the last day of 2022, the Falcons signed Micah Abernathy off the Green Bay practice squad. Annette Abernathy was set to make the New Year's trip to Green Bay to visit her son up north, but a mid-morning call changed her plans. 

"I'll see you at home", Micah Abernathy remembers telling his mom. "At home, in Atlanta."

Home for the Abernathy family is a 10-minute drive from Mercedes-Benz Stadium and West Hunter Street Baptist Church. So, to have Micah Abernathy playing in the NFL as an Atlanta Falcon? The full-circle sentiments are saturated with real meaning. 

"Him being here, back in Atlanta, looking out the window and seeing the Mercedes-Benz emblem on the building, driving from my house down Martin Luther King Dr. to the stadium, it's a rewarding feeling. I feel like we have arrived," Annette Abernathy said from the balcony of West Hunter Street Baptist Church. "No matter what happens from this point on I feel like Micah has the foundation to succeed in anything that he strives to do."

It's a foundation that has restored roots at 755 Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. SW in Atlanta. 

"It means that the work that was put in (at this church) paid off," Annette Abernathy said. "That work goes beyond (Micah). That work goes back to his grandfather and the people before his grandfather who struggled for equal rights to be able to be included and be inclusive in anything that they do."

It means that for every strategic lesson taught in the basement, every sermon spoken in the sanctuary, every meeting held in the back office of the church in the 1960s, that work brought forth a future in 2023 where Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy's grandson has an NFL career at a stadium less than a mile down the road from the strategic hub of the Civil Rights Movement. 

That's a powerful sentiment. 

"It's a surreal moment," Micah Abernathy said. "The amount of support that I have here is crazy. I honestly couldn't have imagined it. There are people who I may not have met who just know my family, and I am running through the tunnel and people are telling me they admire me because of what my family did.

"It's a crazy feeling that you can't get anywhere else. It's something I couldn't get from anywhere else, except for being here."

Here. Atlanta. Home. In a place brought back into the sunlight.

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Story by Tori McElhaney

Video shot by Austin Hittel and Jenny Ross, edited by Mark Whittingham

Photos shot and edited by Shanna Lockwood

Graphics created by Jack Ozmer

For more information on the Abernathy Center, the Ralph David Abernathy III Foundation and the restoration of the Historic West Hunter Street Baptist Church please visit

Click here to read the Ralph David Abernathy Sr. National Historic Site Act introduced by U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock in Feb. 2023. This bipartisan legislation pushes to establish West Hunter Street Baptist Church as a National Historic Site, "protecting and preserving the church's legacy for generations to come," according to official press release announcing the bill.

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