Andrew Jackson Young Jr

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Andrew Jackson Young Jr.

Andrew Jackson Young, Jr. (born 1932) was a preacher, civil rights activist, and politician who served as a leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as a U.S. congressman, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and as mayor of Atlanta, Georgia.

Andrew Jackson Young, Jr. was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 12, 1932, the grandson of a prosperous "bayou entrepreneur" and the eldest of two sons comfortably reared by Andrew J. Young, a dentist, and Daisy (Fuller) Young, a teacher. He and his brother grew up as the only African American children in a white, middle-class neighborhood in New Orleans. In 1947 he graduated from Gilbert Academy, a private high school, and entered Dillard University. Intending to become a dentist, he transferred to Howard University the following year.

After graduating with a pre-medical B.S. degree in 1951, however, Young decided on the ministry and enrolled in the Hartford Theological Seminary in Connecticut. He completed his B.D. degree four years later, and, strongly influenced by his study of the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi, Young resolved to "change this country without violence."

Civil Rights Activist

In 1955 Young was ordained a minister in the socially liberal and predominantly white United Church of Christ. He pastored African American Congregational churches in Marion, Alabama, and the southern Georgia small towns of Thomasville and Beachton, before becoming the associate director of the Department of Youth Work for the National Council of Churches in 1957. As a part of his duties there he administered a voter education and registration project funded by the Field Foundation, and this brought him into contact with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In the summer of 1961 Young joined that organization and rapidly became an able administrative assistant and confidant of King.

Worldly in matters of finance and organizational techniques and conversant in the language of the white establishment as well as the patois of the uneducated rural African Americans, Young excelled as a fund-raiser and strategist and was SCLC's principal negotiator. While others became newsworthy by getting arrested and beaten, Young worked quietly behind the scene to persuade the white power structure of the futility of resistance to the African American civil rights movement. He helped direct the massive campaign against racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, and his success at the negotiating table in winning important gains for Birmingham African Americans led to the selection of Young as executive director of SCLC in 1964.

Young marched at King's side in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964; Selma, Alabama, in 1965; Chicago in 1966; and Memphis in 1968 and was at the motel in Memphis when the civil rights leader was shot and killed on April 4, 1968. Young remained with the SCLC as its executive vice-president for two more years, but increasingly articulated the view the movement would have to shift from protest to political action.

Congressman, U.N. Ambassador, and Mayor

In 1970 Young resigned from the SCLC to seek election to the United States House of Representatives from Georgia's nearly two-thirds white Fifth Congressional District in Atlanta. Young lost the congressional race to a conservative white Republican incumbent, but ran strongly enough to pre-empt the Democratic field for a rematch two years later. In 1972, with the Fifth Congressional District having been redistricted by court order to increase the proportion of African American votes to nearly 45 percent, Young put together a coalition of African Americans and white liberals to defeat his Republican opponent by a vote of 72,289 to 64,495, becoming the first African American to be elected to Congress from the Deep South since the Reconstruction Era.

Mastering the art of the negotiating style of politics and of de-racializing what he called "people" issues, Young quickly became an influential Democrat in the House and was returned to Congress in landslide victories of 72 percent in 1974 and 80 percent in 1976. He consistently voted against increased military expenditures and in favor of legislation to assist the poor, but his readiness to compromise and conciliate made him remarkably acceptable to all factions of the Democratic Party. In 1976, believing former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter was the only Democratic candidate who could deliver the South and win in November, Young was the first nationally known elected official to publicly endorse him. Throughout the year Young campaigned on Carter's behalf and was generally credited with mustering the heavy support from African American voters which proved decisive to Carter's victories in key primaries and in the general election. On December 16, 1976, President-elect Carter nominated Young for the position of America's ambassador and chief delegate to the United Nations.

During his brief and stormy career at the United Nations Young was the most outspoken and influential of all Carter's many African American appointees, playing an important diplomatic role which transcended the traditional activities of a U.N. ambassador. He emerged as a leading architect and spokesman for American relations with African and Third World nations. A storm of protest from Israeli and American Jewish leaders following Young's violation of the government's prohibition against meeting with representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), however, forced the ambassador to resign on August 15, 1979.

In October 1981 Young was elected mayor of Atlanta after a hard-fought general campaign against six other aspirants and a runoff election against Sidney Marcus, a white state representative. Receiving 55 percent of the vote, the 49-year old preacher, civil rights activist, and politician became Atlanta's second African American mayor. He took office at a time of reduced federal spending to help cities and a shrinking local tax base caused by the movement of white residents and businesses to the suburbs. He also faced the challenge of governing a predominantly African American city in which most of the economic power was in the hands of whites.

Some critics doubted Young's ability to deal with the Atlanta's problems. He was seen as antibusiness, a weak administrator, and too much of an activist to "bridge the racial gap," as one Georgia politician put it in the New Republic. Young quickly proved his critics wrong. By 1984, Ebony reported, the city had been so successful at attracting new businesses that it was experiencing "a major growth spurt," and by 1988, U.S. News and World Report noted, a survey of 385 executives showed that Atlanta was "their overwhelming first choice to locate a business." In addition, the crime rate had dropped sharply.

Though African Americans dominated the city's politics and whites dominated its economy, both groups seemed willing to work together. "My job," Young told Esquire's Art Harris in 1985, "is to see that whites get some of the power and blacks get some of the money." Some black leaders accused Young of catering exclusively to the white business establishment and neglecting the black poor, but he garnered the support of Atlanta's growing black middle class and was reelected decisively in 1985.

Limited by law to two terms as mayor, Young decided to run for governor of Georgia in 1990. "It's something I have to do," he told Robin Toner of the New York Times. "If I don't get elected I think I'd probably say 'Free at last.' But I have to give it my best possible shot." Young ran primarily on his record of presiding over Atlanta's economic boom; he was criticized, however, for not being a "hands-on" mayor, and was blamed for Atlanta's crime rate, which had risen again after falling during the early years of his administration.

There was also the issue of race. Though Young was popular with younger, suburban whites, many rural and small-town white Georgians still hesitated to vote for a black man. Young made it through the first stage of the primary, but was defeated by Lieutenant Governor Zell Miller in a runoff that featured a low black turnout.

The loss left Young free to concentrate on another project—preparing Atlanta to host the 1996 Olympic games. As chairman of the Atlanta Organizing Committee, he was, according to Black Enterprise's Alfred Edmond, Jr., "the reason Atlanta was able to capture and hold the attention of the IOC (International Olympic Committee)." Young's diplomatic experience was important in Atlanta's winning the bid over such contenders as Athens, Greece and Melbourne, Australia: "I knew government officials and business people in almost every country represented in the IOC," he told Edmond. "Our approach was intensely personal."

As of the early 1990s, Young had announced no career plans beyond his involvement in the Olympics, political or otherwise. He has remained, observed Joseph Lelyveld in the New York Times, "a preacher and a moralist." Young described himself in the New Republic as "a reformer … an advocate of change." But his biographer, Carl Gardner, doubted that Young was ever much of a long-range planner of his own life. "That wasn't his style," Gardner wrote. "He always let things happen. He just naturally evolved."

In June of 1997 Young told Emerge magazine the younger son of Martin Luther King Jr. had asked him to form a commission to investigate King's 1968 assassination. Young said Dexter King, head of the King Center in Atlanta, wanted him to set up "something like a truth commission in South Africa. He's saying, 'Let's declare an amnesty (for confessed King assassin James Earl Ray). Then let's go back and look at the assassination,"' Young said in the interview, published in the magazine's July-August issue.

Further Reading

Good background for Young's role in SCLC are David L. Lewis, King: A Critical Biography (1970) and Paul Good, The Trouble I've Seen (1975). For his political views in the 1970s see Roger M. Williams, "The Making of Andrew Young," Saturday Review (October 16, 1976).

Additional Sources

Discovering Biography, Gale Research (1997).

Jones, Bartlett C., Flawed Triumphs: Andy Young at the United Nations (1996).

Simpson, Janice Clair, Andy Young: A Matter of Choice (1978).

Young, Andrew, An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America (1996). □

Young, Andrew Jackson, Jr.

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YOUNG, Andrew Jackson, Jr.

(b. 12 March 1932 in New Orleans, Louisiana), civil rights leader who served as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for much of the 1960s; later he became a U.S. congressman and ambassador to the United Nations during the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Young's parents were Andrew Jackson Young, Sr., a dentist, and Daisy Fuller Young, a teacher. Born into a position of privilege within African-American society in New Orleans, Young nevertheless faced much of the degradation unique to a southern black American in the segregated South. An exceptional student, Young graduated early from the private Gilbert Academy at the age of fifteen, and at his parent's insistence he spent his freshman year at Dillard University in New Orleans. Young then transferred to Howard University in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1951 with a degree in biology.

The summer after graduation, on a visit to a religious retreat in North Carolina, Young met a white minister who was preparing to go to Angola on a mission. He viewed this encounter as his first step toward searching for his true purpose in life, leading him to the belief that it was his responsibility to help those less fortunate than he. Turning away from his undergraduate focus on biology, Young began a program of study at Hartford Theological Seminary in Connecticut in 1951, while simultaneously working as a youth organizer for the Connecticut Council of Churches. In June 1954 he married Jean Childs in Marion, Alabama. They had four children.

After his graduation from Hartford in 1955, he was called as pastor of the Bethany Congregational Church in Thomasville, Georgia. Young's civil rights work began in Thomasville when he led a move to register local black voters in that rural Georgia community in 1956. Once he had embarked upon an activist career, Young continued on this path, working in connection with mainstream and established civil rights groups across the nation. In August 1957 he joined the executive staff of the youth division of the National Council of Churches, headquartered in New York City.

In 1961 Young became director of a project organized by the United Church of Christ to run a voter registration drive based in Alabama. Young moved his family to Atlanta late that year to work with the Alabama project as well as to continue the work he had begun with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) Citizenship School in Atlanta. In 1962, working closely with the esteemed Septima Clark, Young merged these two projects into the Voter Education Project, under the auspices of SCLC. He headed this project until February 1963. As part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's (SNCC) Freedom Summer project in 1964, Young coordinated the establishment of schools throughout the rural South dedicated to preparing black voters to exercise their right to vote.

SCLC work dominated Young's life during the 1960s. He served as executive director of the organization from 1964 to 1970, and executive vice president, as well, from 1967 to 1970. Young served as one of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s closest aides, advisers, and travel companions from the end of his work with the Voter Education Project in 1963 until King's death in 1968. During his tenure in the leadership of SCLC, Young was viewed by many on the staff as representative of the conservative element within the organization—undoubtedly one legacy of his privileged background—and the one most likely to appeal to the conservative white portion of the American South. Aware of this reputation himself, Young considered himself more of a mediator than a facilitator, an assumption that propelled him into political work during the 1970s and 1980s.

Once Young's work with the Voter Education Project had ended, he worked as a march coordinator during Birmingham's 1963 Children's Crusade, supervising marches during the campaign itself and in the wake of the deaths of four young girls at a bombing of Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Young's reputation as a mediator shone through; he encouraged participants to remain non-violent, although Birmingham's police chief, Bull Connor, instructed his men to persist in their brutality toward demonstrators.

Present at many of the seminal events of the civil rights movement, Young accompanied King on his fateful trip to Memphis, Tennessee, in April 1968 to support the striking sanitation workers in that city and to launch the SCLC's Poor People's Campaign. After King's assassination on 4 April, Young struggled to continue King's work in shifting SCLC's focus away from racial discrimination and toward economic inequality. Frustrated with the violence that had characterized the decade of the 1960s, as well as delays in implementing the federal legislation that President Lyndon B. Johnson had pushed through the Congress in 1964 and 1965, Young began to look for potential avenues for African Americans to achieve political success. He recognized the need to put forward black candidates for political offices in the South in an attempt to challenge the white southern power structure and, thus, implement the promises contained within the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Young's political career, which undoubtedly brought him more recognition than any of his religious endeavors and work within the civil rights movement, began in 1970 when he resigned his position with SCLC to launch a campaign for nomination for U.S. Representative in Atlanta's Fifth Congressional District. Although he won the Democratic nomination for the seat, he lost the general election to the Republican candidate, Fletcher Thompson. Two years later Young became the first black representative from the state of Georgia to the U.S. House of Representatives since the Reconstruction period. He remained in that position until 1977.

Young was one of the first black politicians to openly endorse the presidential bid of Jimmy Carter in 1976. In so doing, he helped attract the critical black Georgia vote that eventually catapulted Carter into the White House. Carter appointed Young to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1977. When he took his seat on 31 January 1977—he served until 1979—Young became the first African American to occupy that position. As an outspoken supporter of human rights while working in the United Nations, Young transcended his conservative reputation within the civil rights movement by standing consistently on the side of countries fighting for self-determination and freedom from colonial rule.

Young's political career continued into the 1980s, when he succeeded Maynard Jackson as mayor of Atlanta in 1982. He remained in that office for eight years. He later served as cochairman of the Atlanta Committee for the 1996 Olympic Games. Young made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor of Georgia in 1992 and remained an active figure within the human rights movement and Democratic Party in the new millennium.

Young is the author of A Way Out of No Way: The Spiritual Memoirs of Andrew Young (1994) and An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America (1996). Accounts of his role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s are included in Howell Raines, My Soul Is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered (1977), and Taylor Branch's monumental Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–1963 (1988) and Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963–1965 (1998).

Kim Little

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