Chris Smith: She acted first for her 'Uncle' Martin Luther King Jr.

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In one of her roles on stage and TV and in films, Donzaleigh Abernathy portrayed Dr. Stevens in the zombie-fest “The Walking Dead.”

A year ago, Donzaleigh left the cast of “Ferguson,” a stage production in L.A. based on the grand jury report in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a Missouri police officer. She objected that the script portrayed Brown as “a villain and a big bully and some drugged-out kid who was a bad guy.”

When she traces the very beginnings of her acting career, the native of Alabama recalls the sitting-room skits she and her siblings performed with the children of Coretta Scott and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Kings were the closest friends of Donzaleigh’s parents, Juanita Jones and the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy. To Donzaleigh and the other Abernathy kids, the Kings were Aunt Coretta and Uncle Martin.

Donzaleigh was 10 when Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis in 1968 and died as Ralph Abernathy held him.

As an adult, Donzaleigh acted while she researched and collected photos for “Partners to History.” The 2003 book recalls the lives of her father and her uncle, their friendship and their impact as pillars of the civil rights movement.

She said not long ago, “I always believed that when Daddy and Uncle Martin were with us, we were safe, even though we received daily death threats and they were serious.”

On Sunday, Donzaleigh Abernathy will speak in Santa Rosa. She’ll present the keynote address at the annual MLK birthday celebration that starts at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Santa Rosa High School.

The program’s other highlights: Always fabulous music, speeches by teen winners of the MLK Oratorical Contest and, at the end, birthday cake for the guest speaker’s Uncle Martin.

...

IF YOU WERE A KID in Sebastopol and between 1992 and 2007 played on the wooden Super Playground, you may want to check out an online ode by Sophie Weiner.

Sophie grew up in west county and she knew and loved playgrounds here and there, but none like the one that sprawled magically across Libby Park.

“Whimsical details like a dragon slide, pyramid-framed swings and pointed wooden towers separated it from the many plastic and metal pre-fab structures elsewhere around town,” she wrote for the web’s hopesandfears.com.

“But best of all were the ‘secrets’ the structure held: the wooden tunnels underneath it big enough only for young children, the corner where a PVC pipe embedded in the wall allowed you to whisper to your friend across the park. There were always places to hide and discover away from prying adult eyes.”

For her story, accompanied by Talia Herman’s photographs, she tracked down architect Bob Leathers and primary booster Kim Camp, whose surname was Caruso when she headed up the effort that raised $90,000 and saw 1,700 volunteers construct the Super Playground in just five days.

But through 15 years, decay and vandalism ate away at the adored edifice. Sophie quotes Kim Camp as saying, “It broke my heart, taking that thing out, believe me, it really did.

“But the truth is the community that came together for this particular project was amazing and some of my best friends to this day, I met on that project. It was the best thing I ever did in my life.”

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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