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Andrew Young
Andrew Young
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Andrew Young Biography

Civil Rights Ambassador

Andrew Young Date of birth: March 12, 1932

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  Andrew Young

Andrew Jackson Young, Jr. was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Although public facilities in New Orleans were racially segregated, as in other Southern cities, the Crescent City's heritage of ethnic diversity gave Andrew, Jr. early experience in dealing with people from a variety of backgrounds. His father, Andrew Young, Sr., was a dentist whose patients included the city's best-known African American residents, such as musician Louis Armstrong and Olympian Ralph Metcalfe. He and his wife, Daisy Fuller Young, instilled their children with pride and self-respect. The elder Young hired a professional prizefighter to teach his sons to defend themselves so they could not be easily intimidated.

As a youngster, Andrew Young, Jr.'s main interest was athletics, particularly swimming, and track and field, but he also excelled academically. He graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. when he was only 19. Although the Youngs were a religious family, young Andrew did not feel called to the ministry until after graduation, when a spiritual experience on a mountaintop led him to explore his religious feelings. He accompanied his pastor to a youth conference in Texas, where he was asked to volunteer for a national youth program based at Camp Mack, Indiana. There he was exposed for the first time to the philosophy of nonviolence, as taught by Mahatma Gandhi, the pacifist leader of India's independence movement.

Andrew Young Biography Photo
He continued his volunteer work with the National Council of Churches, which assigned him to the New England area. While temporarily housed at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, he sat in on a number of classes and was soon offered a scholarship to study theology full time. His decision to pursue the ministry brought him into serious conflict with his father for the first time. Andrew Young, Sr. had hoped his son would follow him into dentistry rather than the ministry. Andrew, Jr. hoped to try out for the 1952 Olympics as well, but when the National Council of Churches asked him to establish a summer Bible school and youth recreation program in Marion, Alabama, he answered the call. In Marion, he made the acquaintance of the Childs family, and saw a picture of their daughter Jean, who was away at college. Her picture -- and her sports trophies -- made a deep impression. "I decided, even before I met her, and before I saw her, that this was going to be my wife."

He met her soon enough, and when Jean told him she was going to Europe for the summer to do volunteer work with refugee children, he decided to follow her. He worked building a refugee center in Ried, Austria, while she worked in nearby Linz. Between work assignments, they traveled and visited Jean's sister in Berlin. Andrew and Jean married in 1954, while Andrew completed his studies at Hartford Seminary. The following year, he was ordained as a minister of the United Church of Christ.

Andrew Young Biography Photo
Momentous changes were underway in the United States. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled -- in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas -- that separate schools were inherently unequal. This and subsequent decisions eliminated the legal justification for segregation. African Americans now demanded the long-denied rights guaranteed them in the Constitution. The year Andrew Young was ordained, a seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus to a white man, as local law required, and was arrested. When her neighbors organized to defend her and boycott the city's bus system, they chose as their leader a newly appointed 26-year-old pastor, Martin Luther King, Jr.

After graduating from Hartford Seminary, Andrew Young was assigned to pastor a small church in Thomasville, Georgia. For years, discriminatory laws and intimidation had prevented African American citizens from voting in Thomasville. When Andrew Young organized a voter registration drive, the Ku Klux Klan mobilized to intimidate black voters. Young enlisted the town's largest employers and persuaded the local authorities to bar the Klan from entering black neighborhoods.

Andrew Young Biography Photo
In 1957, Andrew Young and Martin Luther King, Jr. met for the first time. Dr. King's wife, Coretta Scott, had gone to high school with Jean Young; the two pastors became fast friends. Later that year, the Youngs accepted an assignment from the National Council of Churches in New York City. There, Andrew Young participated in a weekly national television program, Look Up and Live, which aired on CBS on Sunday mornings. A religious program designed to reach a broad audience, including young people and secular viewers, Andrew Young appeared on the show from 1957 to 1961.

The Kings had relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, where Dr. King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Council to mobilize people of faith to fight for human rights and civil equality. In 1961, the Youngs too moved to Atlanta. Andrew Young became one of Dr. King's principal lieutenants. Working closely together, King and Young led desegregation movements in Birmingham, Alabama, in St. Augustine, Florida, and in its home base of Atlanta. King and the SCLC particularly relied on Young's skills as a negotiator in their dealings with local governments and the white-dominated business community. Despite his diplomatic gifts, local authorities resisted calls for desegregation, and Young was jailed in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama following civil rights demonstrations there.

Young participated in the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. King delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. The following year, Young was appointed Executive Director of the SCLC. He joined Dr. King on the march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965, which resulted in the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act, empowering the federal government to prosecute cases of voter discrimination. Young followed Dr. King to Memphis, Tennessee to support the city's striking sanitation workers, and was with his friend at the Lorraine Motel when Dr. King was murdered on April 4, 1968.

Andrew Young Biography Photo
Andrew Young Biography Photo

In the tumultuous years that followed, Young remained one of the most visible leaders of the nonviolent movement. While other activists became hopelessly disillusioned with the possibility of peaceful change, Andrew Young redoubled his efforts to make the American system of democracy work for all its people. Returning to Atlanta, Georgia, where he had worked for many years, he ran for the United States Congress in 1970 and was narrowly defeated. Two years later, he ran again; this time he was successful, and became the first African American to be elected to Congress from the Deep South in the 20th Century. Young served with distinction in the House of Representatives and was re-elected in 1974 and 1976.

Andrew Young Biography Photo
Congressman Young was an active supporter of former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign. When Carter took office as President in 1977, he appointed Andrew Young to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador Young became the face of the administration's ambitious policy of engagement with developing countries and support for human rights around the world. Young's time at the UN was a particularly stormy one, as the U.S. attempted to resolve a series of intractable regional conflicts. Young facilitated a peace settlement in Rhodesia that brought an end to white minority rule and empowered the black majority of the country, now known as Zimbabwe. In white-ruled South Africa, the U.S. supported an international arms embargo against the white minority government, but stopped short of full economic sanctions. Young also participated in the delicate diplomacy that led to the Panama Canal Treaty, in which control of the Canal Zone was finally returned to the Republic of Panama, relieving a source of long-standing tension between the United States and her sister Republics in Central America.

Andrew Young Biography Photo
Young's greatest diplomatic challenge came in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. In 1978, President Carter successfully brokered the Camp David Peace Accord, making peace between Israel and Egypt. Meanwhile, the United Nations was studying the conflicting claims of Israel and the Palestinians. When it was reported that Young had met privately with a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in New York, in an apparent reversal of the President's previously stated policy, the administration's critics demanded Young's resignation. Young was trying to forestall a proposal in the UN Security Council calling for Palestinian statehood, a resolution he would have vetoed, as the U.S. representative. Young believed he was doing his duty as his country's ambassador, but the political pressure became too great a distraction for the Carter administration and in August 1979, at the President's request, Young stepped down. In his last month in office, Carter awarded Andrew Young the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Andrew Young Biography Photo
Returning to Atlanta, Young found another way to serve. The city's first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, was retiring, barred by term limits from running for reelection in 1981. Urged by many friends in Atlanta, including Coretta Scott King, Young entered the race and won 55 percent of the vote. As Mayor, he drew $70 billion of private investment to the city and was easily reelected in 1985, receiving 80 percent of the votes cast. He brought the Democratic National Convention to the city in 1988, and initiated a campaign to host the Olympic Games. Although Atlanta's bid was considered a long shot, in 1990, one year after Andrew Young left office as Mayor of Atlanta, it was announced that the 1996 Olympics would be held there.

The next years were difficult for Andrew Young and his family. A spirited campaign for Governor of Georgia ended in defeat in 1990. Jean Young was diagnosed with cancer, and after a brave struggle, she died in 1994. She was survived by their four children.

Andrew Young Biography Photo
In 1996, the Summer Olympics put the eyes of the world on Atlanta, and the city Andrew Young had led for eight years proved itself ready for its moment in the spotlight. That year, Andrew Young married Carolyn McClain and gradually returned to public life. He has written a number of books including A Way Out of No Way (1994), and An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America (1998). In 2000, Andrew Young undertook a one-year term as President of the National Council of Churches, the organization he had first served as a 19-year-old volunteer. In 2003, he created the Andrew Young Foundation to support and promote education, health, leadership and human rights in the United States, Africa and the Caribbean.

Today, a number of institutions in Georgia bear Andrew Young's name. Andrew Young International Boulevard runs past Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, Morehouse College is home to the Andrew Young Center for International Studies, and for many years, Young himself has been a professor at Georgia State University's Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. A half-century after the heroic days of the Civil Rights Movement, as the anniversaries of the historic milestones were celebrated, Andrew Young remained greatly in demand as a speaker for his memories of those tumultuous times.

This page last revised on Dec 16, 2015 16:32 EDT
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