Young, Jean Childs 1993–1994
Jean Childs Young 1993–1994
Civil rights activist, educator
Civil Rights Movement Began
Jean Young was a prominent activist for civil rights, education, and children’s welfare whose work spanned more than three decades. In 1978 she became widely known as the chairperson of the International Year of the Child. She was a strong, independent woman who was both career and family oriented. She was never overshadowed by her husband, famed civil rights leader and politician Andrew Young, but worked beside him, helping to further his causes, many of which she supported, while actively defending her own as well.
The youngest of five children, Jean Childs Young was born during the Depression on July 1, 1933, in Marion, Alabama. Her father, Norman Childs, and his family owned a combination grocery, soda fountain, and candy store. The family made candy that Norman Childs sold throughout the South. Her mother, Idella Childs, was an elementary school teacher. Andrew (Andy) Young, whom Jean Young would later marry, wrote in his spiritual memoirs, A Way Out of No Way, “Norman Childs was a black Clark Gable and Idella as fiery, independent, and as passionate a woman as Miss Scarlett ever hoped to be. This was a wonderful family.”
The school system in Marion, Alabama, was characterized by the racial discrimination commonly practiced throughout the South. A potbellied stove was the only source of heat in the one-room school where Idella Childs taught, and the children sat on benches without backs. Unlike the freshly painted white school, the black school was rough clapboard, and it could only provide students with used books handed down from the white school. The situation may have agitated young Jean and perhaps she showed it. Her parents became concerned about her behavior and thought that she was developing a chip on her shoulder.
Mr. and Mrs. Childs provided a comfortable living for the family and helped to make life for the children happy. A family garden was an additional source of food and Idella Childs, who was also a seamstress, made all of the children’s clothes. Young’s solid upbringing, coupled with the positive attitude of the black community, helped her to develop a strong sense of pride. She was very affected by the tightly knit black community in Marion. She told A. Victoria Hunter for Essence magazine, October 1979.
Born July 1, 1933, in Marion, AL; died September 16, 1994, in Atlanta, GA; daughter of Norman (candy store owner) and Idella Childs (elementary school teacher); married Andrew Young, 1954; children: Andrea, Lisa, Paula, Andrew III. Education: Manchester College, Indiana, B.S., 1954; Queens College, M.S.
Career: Thomasville, Georgia, teacher, 1954-56; Hartford, CT, teacher, 1962-65; Teacher Corps, Atlanta Public Schools, Univ. of GA, teacher, 1965–67; Atlanta Public Schools, Central County Program, coordinator of preschool & elementary education, 1967-69, teacher, 1969-72; Atlanta Junior College, instructor of special studies, 1974-77, public relations officer, 1974-77, title XI coordinator, 1976-77; Children’s Issues Self Employed, educator, consultant, lecturer.
Awards: NAACP Distinguished Leadership Award, 1989; YWCA, Woman of Achievement Award, 1993; WXIA-TV, Atlanta, Community Service Award, 1993. Honorary Doctorates: Loyola University, Manchester College, New York City Technical College of CUNY.
“The problems of segregation forced people into closerknit communities…. The fact that you could not live in certain areas, that you could not attend certain schools, that you could not go to movies or public facilities created a closer family unit and a closer community unit…. It … tended to bind us … in a rather unique way to one another. We were living in a hostile environment, but we had … a closer-knit group to cope with the hostility.”
Doubtless Young’s parents also helped her to develop a positive attitude. For example, they refused to allow her to work as a babysitter, as her schoolmates did, so she would avoid getting into “that maid relationship.” Mr. and Mrs. Childs expected that all of their children would attend college. “That was a route out of the social dilemma,” she continued in Essence.
From her early days Young knew who she was and accepted her blackness. Her passage through childhood might have been eased by her light skin and “good” haira possibility that she acknowledged. Young took steps to be as inconspicuous among her peers as possible and to be accepted on the basis of her appearance; therefore, instead of wearing her “good” hair loose, she wore it braided and tied with ribbons, or pinned back, as if to draw attention away from her hair. Later, in Essence, Young reflected, “Black never has been the color of skin” but “a culture.”
Young attended Lincoln High School, which the American Missionary Association operated. After graduating, she enrolled at Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, a school affiliated with the fundamentalist Church of the Brethren. Although she planned to become a missionary to Angola and applied to the school for missionary status, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions denied her request because of their policy against accepting missionaries who were single.
When she was a college student, Jean Childs met Andy Young, a graduate of Howard University, Washington, D.C., and for a short time pastor of the church in Marion where the Childs family held membership. The New Orleans native, who had entered Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, had returned South on a summer internship and hoped to mingle with “plain, wise black folk.” Since the church membership was so small, ministers came only for the summer. Andy Young received no pay for his services but was given housing and meals with different families on a weekly basis. Norman and Idella Childs provided meals for Young during his first week in Marion. Although Jean Young was not yet home for the summer, Andy Young saw evidence of her everywhere in the home. He saw a revised standard version of the New Testament, a Thomas Nelson study version underlined and filled with notes in the margin on some of his favorite passages. He observed a Red Cross Senior Life Saving certificate and, as he wrote in his spiritual memoirs, he “was not accustomed to young black women who studied the Bible seriously and who were good swimmers.” He knew about Manchester College, where she studied, through one of its former students, who introduced Young to the concept of nonviolence and Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings.
Andy Young had come to Marion at a time when he was totally committed to the church and felt that he had no room in his life for marriage or a family. He began to suspect, however, that the Lord had sent him to Marion to meet his wife. Andy and Jean first met at a family meal at the Childs home. The initial meeting of Jean and Andy Young was warm and friendly and led to easy conversation. On their first date they drove thirty miles to Selma to a swimming pool for blacks because Marion offered no such facility. Later they developed a romantic relationship, but marriage took a back burner to their educations. In his memoirs Andy Young wrote an account of his wife as a young woman. His description is an apt characterization of her later life as well.
“I had never met a young woman quite like Jean. There was a simple elegance about the way she did things. She was wise beyond her years, and she possessed a sense of mission about teaching in the South which impressed me more than her charm and beauty. I had known many beautiful women, but with Jean, the beauty was not just external. It was her spirit, her dedication, and her purpose to serve others which made her the “one in a million, chance of a lifetime.”
They returned to their separate schools and in 1954, Jean Young graduated from Manchester. They married in June of the same year. This was a critical time in the civil rights movement because of the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed school segregation. Their interests, however, were in the church, not the political activities that would consume them later on.
The Youngs headed for Thomasville and Beachton, Georgia, to two small churches that Andy Young was to pastor. Andy Young outraged the Ku Klux Klan when he started a voter registration drive in the area. He admitted in his memoirs that he had his own hidden agenda when he went to Thomasville. He had studied about Gandhi and India’s nonviolent struggle and hoped to stir up “a similar movement among southern Negroes.” Soon they moved to the New York area, where Andy Young became affiliated with the National Council of Churches (NCC) Department of Youth Work.
Civil Rights Movement Began
While in the New York area, Jean Young taught school in Hartford and at the same time earned a master’s degree from Queens College in Flushing, New York. But she knew there was a need for black teachers in the South and that education was one way to address racial problems. In 1960, as they watched NBC’s White Paper give an account of a racial demonstration in Nashville, Tennessee, in which students from Fisk University, the American Baptist Seminary, and Tennessee State University were arrested, they knew immediately that, although they were not students, they would return to the South and join the civil rights movement. They felt the call although the solution to racial strife was not yet clear to them. Jean Young had studied with committed pacifists at Manchester College and Andy Young had studied Gandhi; therefore, nonviolent protest must have appealed to them. “We didn’t know what the Civil Rights Movement would involve, but I can remember thinking this was the most important place in the world to be,” she told A. Victoria Hunter for the Essence piece.
The Youngs returned to Atlanta, where Andy Young served as a staff member of the Board of Homeland Ministries of the United Churches of Christ and administrator of its Dorchester Citizenship Education Project. He was also a staff member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) from 1961 to 1970. By 1964 he was SCLC’s executive director. He was a top strategist and theorist for the movement and assisted in drafting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Jean Young had great respect for Martin Luther King, Jr. and the entire civil rights movement. As she stated in her interview with Victoria Hunter for Essence, she knew then that the movement was right, that those involved in it were totally committed, and that the masses of people in the streets were there because they knew too that “this is the right time and the right place and we’ve got to be here.”
The Youngs’ Atlanta home became a meeting site for civil rights strategy sessions and a hotel for participants in the movement. Those passing through who needed a place to stay often slept on the floor, in the basement, or wherever they could in the Youngs’ home. Jean Young’s involvement began at this level and advanced to public demonstrations. Personal circumstances prevented her from sustained involvement in the movement; she had young children and was a school teacher in Atlanta. But Jean Young did what she could. She participated in the 1961 boycott of downtown lunch counters and marches in Birmingham, Alabama. She attended the meetings in St. Augustine, Florida, where in 1964 for the first time she joined in a march, at a site where Andy Young worked. In fact, she participated in all of the major civil rights marches: the 1963 March on Washington, the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights, the 1966 march in Mississippi, and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. Meanwhile, Andy Young marched with King wherever he went and was with him when King was assassinated in 1968.
Young saw an important role for black working women in society and a position for herself in the workforce that would not interfere with her family responsibilities. She told Hunter for Essence magazine, “Being a Black woman, having to grow up in a society in which my parents worked and in which many of my friends’ parents worked, the idea of women working was not something new. What was new was women working in jobs that paid well-creative jobs, meaningful jobs within the context of the Black community.”
Young became coordinator of school programs for the Atlanta system and was a lead teacher in the Teacher Corps. She was appointed to the team that developed Atlanta Metropolitan College and was the school’s first public relations officer. Later on she served on its board of advisers. She worked with IBM Educational Systems in the development of The Illuminated Books and Manuscripts, a multimedia software program.
The world knew the work of Andy Young, the civil rights leader, minister, congressman (1972-76), U.N. ambassador (1977-79), and mayor of Atlanta (1982-90), yet Jean Young, a widely accomplished woman in the areas of education and civil rights, received little notice in some communities. In an interview with Maria Saporta published in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution on September 17, 1994, she said that “she did not see herself as the woman behind the man, but ’ beside’ the man. ’ Whatever role I have in relationship to Andy will be one that I determine.’” She was a staunch advocate of children’s welfare, as demonstrated through her role as chair of the U.S. Commission on the International Year of the Child. President Jimmy Carter named her to the volunteer position in 1978. Sponsored by the United Nations, the program was designed to enhance the lives of children around the world. While chairing the commission, she developed a network of child welfare advocates in each state in the United States.
As she discussed the commission’s work with Essence ’s Victoria Hunter, Young spoke of its efforts to get the corporate world, professional and social organizations, labor unions, the government, and other groups and individuals more involved in children’s causes. “What we’re really asking is that these groups begin to examine … their social responsibility … to the future of this nation…. That’s what our children represent.”
Jean Young also served on a number of boards. She chaired the board of directors of the African American Panoramic Experience Museum in Atlanta. She was a member of the advisory boards of Outward Bound, UNICEF, Families First, the Georgia Woman of Achievement Museum, and Habitat for Humanity. During Andy Young’s tenure as mayor of Atlanta, Jean Young established the Atlanta Task Force on Education and was its chair for seven terms. The task force sponsored the Mayor’s Scholars and the “Dream Jamboree,” which brought together in Atlanta’s Civic Center high school seniors and recruiters from colleges and trade schools. These two programs are an enduring legacy to her dedication to young people. Jean Young most recently demonstrated her concern for children with the Atlanta-Fulton Commission on Children and Youth, which she cofounded in 1990 and which began to implement its programs in 1992.
In recognition of her work, Jean Young has received numerous awards and honors. She was awarded honorary doctorates from Loyola University in Chicago, Manchester College, and New York City Technical College of the City University of New York. She received the NAACP Distinguished Leadership Award in 1989, the YWCA Woman of Achievement Award in 1993, and the Community Service Award in 1993 from WXIA-TV, Channel 11, in Atlanta.
Young enjoyed athletics as much as she supported athletic programs. She had been a five-foot-three-inch guard on her high school basketball team and a swimmer as well. She became a “B” level player in the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association, winning several trophies. Andy and Jean Young were friends with Arthur and Jeanne Ashe and the couples often played tennis doubles together. Jean Young helped boost Atlanta’s successful bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics by traveling through Africa, the Middle East, and Europe to garner support from members of the International Olympic Committee.
In 1991 Jean Young was diagnosed with liver cancer, which led to her death at Crawford Long Hospital of Emory University in Atlanta on Friday, September 16, 1994. In addition to her husband, she was survived by four children--Lisa Alston, Paula Shelton, Andrea Young, and Andrew Young III--her mother, four sisters, and seven grandchildren. A three-hour ceremony celebrating her life was held before thousands of friends and well-wishers at the Civic Center, with the pastor of First Congregational Church of Atlanta, where Young held membership, officiating. The ceremony was filled with tributes to Jean Young, including a handwritten note from President Bill Clinton, a poem recited by Maya Angelou, a personal remembrance from Coretta Scott King, and a moving message from daughter Lisa Young Alston. Commenting on the services, Casper Jordan wrote: “This city has been obsessed with her since her death…. As we say, ’ she was put away in grand style.’”
Both in her life’s work and in selections from her memoir, “What to Remember about Me,” published in her funeral program and in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution on September 20, 1994, Jean Young expressed how she wished to be remembered. These selections showed that she was caring and understanding; she loved reading, especially historical novels; she was a problem solver for her children; she was an advocate for her children, family, friends, and all just causes; she was a loving mother and wife who believed that each member in a relationship should give more than half; and she believed in the grace of forgiveness and was a forgiving person. According to the selections from her memoir, she wanted people to remember, “Jean Young, now that was a woman!”
Young, Andrew. A Way Out of No Way. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994.
Who’s Who among Black Americans, 1994-95. 8th ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, September 17, 1994, September 18, 1994,
September 20, 1994.
Ebony, February 1973, pp. 82-90, April 1978, pp. 110-22.
Essence, October 1979, pp. 92-93, 154-61.
Jet, October 3, 1994, pp. 6-7.
Washington Post, September 17, 1994.
"Young, Jean Childs 1993–1994." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/young-jean-childs-1993-1994
"Young, Jean Childs 1993–1994." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved January 18, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/young-jean-childs-1993-1994