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Young, Andrew

Young, Andrew

October 23, 1932

Civil rights activist and politician Andrew Jackson Young Jr. was born in New Orleans. His father was an affluent, prominent dentist, and Young was raised in a middle-class black family in a racially mixed neighborhood. He attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., and graduated in 1951. Young pursued his growing commitment to religion at Hartford Theological Seminary in Connecticut and was awarded a bachelor of divinity degree in 1955. He was ordained a Congregational minister, and from 1955 to 1959 he preached in churches in Georgia and Alabama. In the course of this work, Young experienced firsthand the wrenching poverty that shaped the lives of African Americans in the rural South. He became active in challenging racial inequality, joined the local civil rights movement, and helped organize a voter-registration drive in Thomasville, Georgia, one of the first of its kind in southern Georgia.

In 1959 Young went to New York to become an assistant director of the National Council of Churches and help channel New York City philanthropic money into southern civil rights activities. Two years later he returned to Georgia and joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a civil rights organization headed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Young became an active participant in the SCLC, building a reputation for coolness and rationality and often providing a moderating influence within the movement. From 1961 to 1964 he served as funding coordinator and administrator of the SCLC's Citizenship Education Programa program aimed at increasing black voter registration among African Americans in the South.

Young grew to be one of King's most trusted aides. In 1964 he was named executive director of the SCLC and three years later took on additional responsibility as executive vice president. During his tenure, he focused on creating social and economic programs for African Americans to broaden the scope of SCLC's activism. In 1970 Young relinquished his executive positions. However, he continued his affiliation with SCLC, serving on the board of directors, until 1972.

In 1972 Young turned his energies to the political arena and launched a successful campaign to become the first African American elected to the House of Representatives from Georgia since 1870. In Congress he served on the House Banking Committee and became familiar with the national and international business markets. In 1976 he vigorously supported the candidacy of fellow Georgian Jimmy Carter for president and vouched for Carter's commitment to black civil rights to many who were skeptical of supporting a white Democrat from the Deep South. Upon Carter's election, Young resigned his congressional seat to accept an appointment as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

As ambassador Young focused on strengthening the ties between the United States and the third world. In 1979 he was forced to resign his position when it was revealed that he had engaged in secret negotiations with representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in violation of U.S. policy. Young's supporters argued that Young was merely doing the job of a diplomat by speaking to all interested parties in sensitive negotiations. Many Jews and other supporters of Israel, however, believed that Young's actions gave the PLO unwarranted legitimacy. The furor that surrounded his actions forced him to submit his resignation.

In 1982 Young mounted a successful campaign for mayor of Atlanta. During his administration he faced the same urban problems that plagued other big-city mayors, including a shrinking tax base, rising unemployment, and rising costsall of which required difficult decisions in fund allocation. Despite these constraints, he was able to increase business investment in Georgia. He successfully ran for reelection in 1986, despite growing criticism from some African Americans who argued that black Atlantans had been hurt by his economic development programs. In 1990, after he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Young reentered private life. He served as chair of Law International, Inc., until 1993, when he was appointed vice chair of its parent company, Law Companies Group, an internationally respected engineering and environmental consulting company based in Atlanta.

During the course of his career, Young has received many awards, including the Presidential Medal of FreedomAmerica's highest civilian awardand more than thirty honorary degrees from universities such as Yale, Morehouse, and Emory. In 1994, his spiritual memoir, A Way Out of No Way, was published. Young lobbied successfully to bring the 1996 Summer Olympics to Atlanta and served as cochair of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

Young's papers are housed at the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library. In 2004 Young participated in a DNA test that helped determine that his ancestors originated in Sierra Leone and the Sudan in Africa.

See also Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Mayors; Politics in the United States; Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)


Clement, Lee, ed. Andrew Young at the United Nations. Salisbury, N.C.: Documentary Publications, 1978.

Gardner, Carl. Andrew Young, A Biography. New York: Drake, 1980.

Powledge, Fred. Free at Last? The Civil Rights Movement and the People Who Made It. Boston: Little, Brown, 1991.

Young, Andrew. A Way Out of No Way. Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson, 1994.

christine a. lunardini (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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