Andrew Young, Jr. was an activist for the Civil Rights Movement. He became a member of Congress, mayor of Atlanta and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Andrew J. Young heard the call to service as a young man. He has lived his life in response to that call, from his ordination as a minister, to his work on behalf of civil and human rights, to his public service career as a member of Congress, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Mayor of Atlanta. The Andrew Young Foundation builds on his legacy by developing and nurturing new generations of innovative leaders to tackle this era’s global challenges.
Andrew Young was born in 1932 in New Orleans. Raised in a middle-class family – his father was a dentist, his mother a teacher – Young was forced to travel from his own neighborhood in order to attend segregated schools. He excelled as a student and entered college early, graduating from Howard University in 1951 at 19 years of age. He became an ordained minister after graduating from Hartford Theological Seminary in 1955 and took a job as a pastor in Thomasville, Georgia. It was during his time in South Georgia that Young first became active in the Civil Rights movement. He organized voter registration drives in the African-American community, enduring death threats along the way.
In 1957, Young moved with his wife, Jean Childs Young, to New York City to work with the Youth Division of the National Council of Churches. He returned to Georgia in 1961 to lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) “citizenship schools,” working closely with Dr. King to teach non-violent organizing strategies. Within the SCLC, Young organized desegregation efforts throughout the South, including the May 1963 march in Birmingham where participants were viscously attacked by police dogs. King often entrusted Young to oversee the SCLC when King spent time in jail after protests. Young was a key strategist and negotiator during civil rights campaigns that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 1970, Young left the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to run for Congress. He lost his first race, but two years later became the first African-American representative from the Deep South since Reconstruction. He served on the Banking and Urban Affairs and Rules Committees, sponsoring legislation that established a U.S. Institute for Peace, The African Development Bank and the Chattahoochee River National Park, while negotiating federal funds for MARTA (Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority), the Atlanta highway system and a new international airport for Atlanta.
In 1977, President Carter appointed Young to serve as the nation’s first African-American Ambassador to the United Nations. As Ambassador, Young negotiated an end to white-minority rule in Namibia and Zimbabwe and brought President Carter’s emphasis on human rights to international diplomacy efforts.
In 1981, Young was elected Mayor of Atlanta in 1981, where, as he liked to say, the mayor had once had him thrown in jail. He was re-elected in 1985 with nearly 80 percent of the vote and in 1988 Atlanta hosted the Democratic National Convention. His tenure corresponded with a recession and a reduction in federal funds for cities. He turned to international markets for investments in Atlanta, attracting 1,100 new businesses, $70 billion in investment, and 1 million new jobs to the region. He developed public-private partnerships to leverage public dollars for the preservation of Zoo Atlanta.
Young led the successful effort to bring the Centennial Olympic Games to Atlanta in 1996. As Co-Chair of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, he oversaw the largest Olympic Games in history in terms of numbers of participating countries, competing athletes and the number of spectators. He was awarded the Olympic Order, the highest award of the Olympic Movement. President Bill Clinton appointed him founding chair of the Southern African Enterprise Development Fund.
In 2000 and 2001, he served as president of the National Council of Churches. In 2003, he founded the Andrew J. Young Foundation to support and promote education, health, leadership and human rights in the U.S., Africa, and the Caribbean. Andrew Young Presents, the Emmy-nominated, nationally syndicated series of specials produced by Ambassador Young through the Andrew J. Young Foundation, Inc. is seen in nearly 100 American markets and worldwide through the American Forces Network. Its first episode was drawn from the documentary film Rwanda Rising, about Rwanda’s progress since the genocide of 1994.Young narrated the film. Ambassador Young retired from GoodWorks International, LLC, in 2012 after well over a decade of facilitating sustainable economic development in the business sectors of the Caribbean and Africa.
He has shared his life’s work in books including A Way Out of No Way: The Spiritual Memoirs of Andrew Young, An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement andthe Transformation of America, and Walk in My Shoes: Conversations between a Civil Rights Legend and his Godson on the Journey Ahead, which was co-authored by Kabir Sehgal.
Ambassador Young has received honorary degrees from more than 100 universities and colleges in the U.S. and abroad. President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and France awarded him the Legion d’Honneur, each representing the highest civilian honor for that particular nation. He has received the NAACP’s Springarn Medal. In 2011 he received an Emmy Lifetime Achievement award, and is portrait became part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. He serves on a number of boards, including: the Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change, Barrick Gold, the United Nations Foundation, the Atlanta Falcons, the Andrew Young School for Policy Studies at Georgia State University, and Morehouse College.
Working as a pastor in Georgia, Young first became part of the Civil Rights Movement when he organized voter registration drives. In 1964, Young became the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) executive director and helped draw up the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He was with Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, the day of King’s assassination. Following King’s death, Young became executive vice president of the SCLC.
In 1970, Young left the SCLC to make a run for Congress, but was defeated at the polls. Two years later, he ran again, and this time was elected to the House of Representatives. Young was the first African American to represent Georgia in Congress since Reconstruction. In his time as a legislator, he supported programs for the poor, educational initiatives and human rights.
During Jimmy Carter’s run for the presidency, Young offered key political support; when Carter was in office, he chose Young to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Young left his seat in Congress to take the position. While Ambassador, he advocated for human rights on a global scale, such as sanctions to oppose rule by apartheid in South Africa.
Young was elected as Atlanta’s mayor in 1981. After two terms as mayor, he failed in his attempt to secure the Democratic nomination to run for governor of Georgia. However, Young was successful in his campaign for Atlanta to host the Olympic Games in 1996.
Young wrote about his role in the fight for civil rights in two books: A Way Out of No Way (1994) and An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America (1996). He has also written Walk in My Shoes: Conversations Between a Civil Rights Legend and His Godson on the Journey Ahead (2010). He continues to fight for equality and economic justice with a consulting firm, Good Works International, that supports development initiatives, particularly in Africa and the Caribbean.
As an esteemed civil rights activist, Young has received accolades that include the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Springarn Medal. Morehouse College named the Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership in his honor, and Young has taught at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
Professor Jim Ralph Biography, who will be interviewing Ambassador Young during the event:
Jim Ralph is the Rehnquist Professor of American History and Culture at Middlebury College and has taught in the History Department since 1989. He specializes in American History, particularly the Civil Rights Movement. Jim has also served recently as the Dean for Faculty Development and Research, the Dean of the Faculty, and the director of the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research. He earned his B.A. at Middlebury College, and received my M.A. and Ph.D. in history from Harvard University.
Jim is the author of Northern Protest: Martin Luther King, Jr., Chicago, and the Civil Rights Movement (Harvard University Press, 1993).
He is a co-editor of, and contributor to, The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North (University Press of Kentucky, 2016). This book has recently been released in paperback. Read this recent story about the Chicago Freedom Movement and this book.
Jim is also at work on a history of the struggle for racial equality from the 1840s to the present in Peoria and central Illinois. Click this link for a story on this project.
His most recent publications include a foreword to Robert McKersie’s memoir of his involvement in the Chicago civil rights movement, A Decisive Decade: An Insider’s View of the Chicago Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s (2013), a chapter “Black Church Divisions and Civil Rights Activism in Chicago,” in R. Drew Smith, ed., From Every Mountainside: Black Churches and the Broad Terrain of Civil Rights (2013), and a foreword to Martin Deppe’s Operation Breadbasket: An Untold Story of Civil Rights in Chicago, 1966-1971 (2017).
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