Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Andrew Young is a pace setter in civil liberties and human rights who not only was instrumental in the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, but made a good deal of history.
Young not only helped Martin Luther King organize civil rights protests in the 1960s, but he helped to draft the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He also took on ground-breaking roles as a United Nations ambassador and continues to work for civil liberties.
It’s in connection with the civil rights legislation passed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson that Young will appear Tuesday at LBJ’s alma mater, Texas State. Young will speak at the outdoor mall of the LBJ Student Center at 8 p.m. Admission is free, and attendees may bring lawn chairs and are allowed to arrive a little early to get set up.
Young’s lecture, “The National Voting Rights Act of 1965 and President Lyndon B. Johnson,” is part of this year’s “Common Experience at Texas State” program. The theme, “Civic Responsibility and the Legacy of LBJ,” focuses on Johnson’s devotion to public service and his contributions that continue to impact American society.
The National Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark in civil-rights legislation. One of the most precious treasures of LBJ’s legacy, it was adopted during what all current references to the era call “The Turbulent Sixties,” which were a powder keg of divisive issues like the war in Viet Nam, civil rights, and women’s rights, which changed the political landscape for future generations.
For those who lived through those times, daily pictures of race riots and wartime horrors on the television news are forever seared into their memories. In one of the popular culture’s more incongruous twists, news coverage of war and protest was far more visceral and alarming at a time when the touch-tone phone was a new invention and the hand-held calculator had not even reached the market yet.
Young was born in New Orleans in 1932. His father was a dentist and his mother a schoolteacher. He planned to become a dentist like his father, but after receiving his B.S. at Howard University, he felt called to the ministry and continued his education at Hartford Theological Seminary, where he received a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1955.
When Young accepted the pastorate at Bethany Congregational Church in Thomasville, GA, he utilized his interest in the work of Mohandas Gandhi, and the idea of non-violent resistance as a powerful force for social change, to register voters and get involved in the burgeoning civil rights movement.
After accepting a job in New York with the National Council of Churches in 1957, Young felt compelled to return to the South and moved to Atlanta. In 1964, he was named executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), the Atlanta-based civil rights organization run by Martin Luther King Jr.
Young became an executive assistant to King, another proponent of non-violent protest for social change. Young’s eyewitness account of this era and the SCLC’s peaceful protest training is told in his book, “An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America.” It was during this time that Young helped to draft both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both put into law under LBJ.
Young’s description of King’s the assassination is poignant. Young and activist Rev. James Orange were playfully shadow boxing in the parking lot of the Memphis hotel, waiting for King so they could go to dinner together. They saw Rev. Jesse Jackson and King on the balcony, and heard what they thought was a car backfiring. History pivots on such moments.
In 1972, Young successfully ran for Congress and was a member of the House of Representatives from Georgia’s 5th district for three terms. He was the first African American in Congress since the reconstruction. He and Barbara Jordan, a Texas Democrat who was also elected to the House in 1972, became two of the first black southerners in Congress in the twentieth century, setting the pace for African Americans in politics.
In 1976, President Jimmy Carter appointed Young the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, where he was one of the first to call for sanctions against apartheid South Africa. In 1979, Young was forced to resign after a secret peace meeting in Vienna with a representative of the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLO), which was thought to be America’s most dangerous terrorist enemy. Less than 10 years later, The United States, again following Young’s pace, opened dialog with the PLO in 1988.
Young later served two terms as the mayor of Atlanta. later served as co-chair of the Atlanta Committee for the 1996 Olympic games. He has been awarded numerous honorary degrees over the course of his life.
Young is currently Co-Chairman of Good Works International (GWI), an international marketing consulting firm that weathered a firestorm of negative publicity in the late 1990s when, at the behest of their client, Nike, they reported on working conditions for shoe workers in Viet Nam that was labeled whitewash by anti-sweatshop activists. GWI’s website states, “GWI principals have backgrounds in human rights and public service. The concept of enhancing the greater good is intrinsic to our business endeavors.” GWI’s major thrust is the emerging markets within Africa and the Caribbean, where Young anticipates the pace of U.S. social responsibilities and business interests.
Now, add “film producer” to Young’s impressive list of titles. He narrated and financed the 2007 documentary, “Rwanda Rising,” a tale of the transformation of the African nation that has taken place only a dozen years after one of the most notorious genocides in history. Young’s positive message on Rwanda’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes of devastation was supported in this film with the talents of such Hollywood notables as Danny Glover, Forest Whitaker, Louis Gossett Jr., Levar Burton, Cicely Tyson, Phylicia Rashad, and Jasmine Guy, just to name a few. Young has said he is also working on documentaries on Nigeria and Tanzania.Email | Print