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 on Andrew Jackson Young Jr
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 Biography 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).