Making Their Own Way Second generation: The sons and daughters of the leaders of the '60s civil rights generation, the men and women with names like King, Abernathy, Jackson and Young, are coming into their own.

January 15, 1996|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

His words don't rhyme, his cadences don't echo the Baptist pulpit and his crescendoes don't shiver the timbers in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives. He is Jesse Louis Jackson Jr., who now begins making his own name in American politics.

With his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, looking on, Jesse Jr. took to the House floor last month for his first speech as a newly sworn-in member of Congress.

"We must expand the Rainbow spirit across the land," declared the 30-year-old Democrat from Illinois. "We must let a new generation arise."

A new generation indeed. The children of the civil rights giants of the 1960s have come of age as politicians and playwrights, lawyers and opera singers, engineers and entrepreneurs. Some have sought the political spotlight, others have shunned it. All have known both the burdens and blessings of growing up as a King, an Abernathy, a Young or a Bond.

While their fathers' names opened many doors for them, it also created expectations that were difficult to handle. From such lofty beginnings, there is always room to fall, and with so many people watching.

Ralph David Abernathy III, a 36-year-old Georgia state senator, remembers when he was elected president of the freshman class at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. Two weeks into his term he started hearing rumors that students were not happy with his performance in office. There was talk of getting rid of him. He wasn't doing enough, they thought.

Not doing enough as president of the freshman class? What was he supposed to be doing?

"I think they thought me being my father's son, I was supposed to walk on water," says Mr. Abernathy, whose late father assumed the presidency of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. He died in 1990.

Mr. Abernathy was supposed to be in Benedict College getting away from home in Atlanta, where everyone knew him and his father. But when your name is Ralph David Abernathy III it's not so easy to emerge from the shadow. He went home and finished college at Morehouse, where his father had already received an honorary doctor of divinity degree.

That time right after college, he says, "that was the pressure time. People were watching me."

He became an entrepreneur in real estate and health care. But the man whose father had called him "a born politician" always felt pulled to public office. At 29 he was elected to the state House of Representatives, four years later to the state Senate.

His two older sisters were also drawn to the public stage, though not as politicians. Juandalynn Abernathy, 39, is an opera lyric soprano who has been touring the world for 15 years and now lives in Germany. Donzaleigh Abernathy, 37, is an actress living in Los Angeles and next month will start filming a television movie opposite Natalie Cole. The youngest Abernathy, Kwame, 23, recently graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts and plans to enter law school.

Michael Julian Bond, 29, a member of the Atlanta City Council, also had an early introduction to politics. He was 5 or 6 years old when he was pressed into service stuffing envelopes for the congressional campaign of Andrew Young, a friend of his father, Julian Bond, the former Georgia state representative and senator who co-founded the Student Non violent Coordinating Committee in 1960. Michael caught the political bug at home and it held.

"It always seemed to be very exciting," says Michael, who was elected to the city council in 1993, a year after running unsuccessfully for the state House of Representatives.

Father's help

Before he entered politics, Michael and his older brother, Horace Mann Bond, got help from their influential father in landing jobs with the Atlanta Department of Corrections. Horace still works there as training coordinator.

Asked why he chose that line of work, Horace Mann says "Honestly speaking? Money."

He says he has little interest in politics because he'd be uneasy having his livelihood depend upon other people's votes. Besides, as a kid he remembers not the excitement of politics, but how often the work took his father away.

"I had a lot of resentment toward that line of work," he says.

The other Bond children have also avoided public life. Jeffrey Alvin, 27, is a stockbroker in Atlanta; Phyllis Jane, 33, manages a telemarketing company in California; Julia Louise, 26, is a retail clerk in Atlanta.

Ask Andrew J. Young III about politics and the answers are not printable in a family newspaper. He's also not particularly keen on being known as the son of such a famous father. Andrew J. Young, now director of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, was a staff member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and worked closely with Dr. King before he became a Georgia congressman, then United Nations ambassador, then mayor of Atlanta.

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