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The Multicultural Vision of Andrew Young

A minister, civil rights organizer, Congressman (1973-1977), United Nations Ambassador (1977-1979), mayor of Atlanta (1982-1990), and television producer, Andrew Jackson Young, Jr. is a true Renaissance man. A graduate of both Howard University in Washington, D.C. and Hartford Theological Seminary in Connecticut, he returned to his Southern roots in 1955 in order to serve as Pastor of Bethany Congregational Church in Thomasville, Georgia. He continued to develop his capacity for leadership as the associate director of the Youth Division of Christian Education in the National Council of Churches. Eventually, Young began to work with citizenship schools that served to educate young blacks in areas of practical knowledge.

In 1964, Andrew Young became the Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  He immediately faced a challenging situation when Hosea Williams asked him to lead a march to oppose segregation and economic inequality in St. Augustine, Florida. The Ku Klux Klan brutally beat Young to the ground, but he stood up and completed the march.

Because of this experience, the SCLC established a major campaign in St. Augustine including speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and swim-ins at white-only pools and beaches. In his autobiography An Easy Burden, Young reflects on the significance of this major trial of his character: “The beatings I took in St. Augustine helped me establish my movement credentials. Now I had been to jail, I had been beaten, and I had guided the movement to a reasonably successful conclusion.” In other words, Young fully participated in the very physical first stage of the civil rights movement that involved laying the groundwork for future black progress by establishing basic standards, including the integration of public facilities.

In 1970, while simultaneously and unsuccessfully running for a Democratic seat in Congress, he became Chair of the Atlanta Community Commissions Relations.  In this position he worked closely with residents of Atlanta's neighborhoods and subsequently campaigned successfully for a Congressional seat.  This WSB-TV interview with Young was conducted on September 26, 1971, seven days after an article from the New York Times suggested him as a suitable running mate for Presidential candidate Edmund Sixtus Muskie.  Young predicts the election of an African American president during his lifetime.

Strikingly, though, in the wake of the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, Young admits that he initially supported the campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton. In a January 25th opinion article in the Los Angeles Times, Young writes: “Hillary was a safer choice of the Democratic candidates…But I underestimated young people, the Internet, the disciplined campaign and Obama’s controlled demeanor. As the events unfolded, I too began to see and believe.”

In this video clip from September 26, 1971, the interviewer alludes to some of the negative attention Young had gained in the media in reference to reverse racism, the empowerment of a peripheral group through the discrimination of the majority. He responds to this heated issue by describing America not as a "melting pot" where everyone becomes the same, but as “…a stew, where the meat and the carrots and potatoes are all in the same pot, but we want to preserve our own integrity and identity.” In this way, Young insists that Americans tolerate and appreciate the distinctions between cultures.

Over a decade after this interview, Young stood by this philosophy of inclusion as mayor of Atlanta. A New York Times series titled “Race Relations: The Changing South” included an article on Atlanta with commentary about the city’s progress from Mayor Young: “Over the last 20 years, we have accomplished the task of desegregation in Atlanta. Now, we are in the process of accomplishing integration. And that means learning to accept, and learning not to be threatened by, cultural differences.” This article also echoes the notion of reverse racism addressed by reporter Jim Whipkey in the 1971 interview. In defense of former Mayor Maynard Jackson’s program requiring publicly-financed building projects to include minority contractors, Young unequivocally voiced his support for “…the growth of the black beauty parlor and barber shop, the dry cleaner and the grocery store.”

As mayor of a major urban center, Young had to be concerned with practical matters such as housing, employment, education, and city services. During the holiday season of 1986, he and his family focused on addressing the issue of homelessness in Atlanta. On Thanksgiving Day, Young visited with thousands of homeless people eating dinner provided by Hosea Williams at the Atlanta Civic Center. Instead of purchasing Christmas gifts for each other that year, the Youngs paid the first month’s rent on an apartment for a once-homeless family.

Importantly, Young’s belief in reaching out to minority groups was not limited to black Americans. In fact, his tendency to focus on international relations often caused trouble in his political life. His secret meeting with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) lost him his position as the United States ambassador to the UN under President Jimmy Carter. Even when serving as mayor of Atlanta, Young allegedly spent over 100 days traveling in the year 1987 alone, which earned him the nickname “Globe-Trotting Andy.”

At the end of his second term, some poor blacks pointed to the fact that Atlanta had the second-highest poverty rate among American cities as proof that these expeditions had a negative impact on his local performance as mayor. Though many believed he spent too little time in Atlanta, his international connections allowed the city to host the 1996 Olympic Games.

Today, Andrew Young continues to bolster international relations as a professor at Georgia State University’s School of Policy Studies, which bears his name. Also, he busies himself with the production of a syndicated television program called “Andrew Young Presents….” In an episode titled “How We Got Over,” Young interviews members of the Civil Rights Digital Library project at the University of Georgia and even mentions this 1971 clip featuring a younger, “cockier” version of himself.

In many ways, Andrew Young served as an invaluable transitional figure in the civil rights movement. He participated in the civilian marches with Dr. King in his earlier years then used his political clout in an elected office to improve the city of Atlanta. Thus, he helped bridge the gap between the first and second stages of the post-60s civil rights movement. Also, more specifically, Young built on the foundations that Maynard Jackson had laid as mayor of Atlanta from 1974-1982. While Jackson was unable to form a functioning coalition of white business executives and the electoral base of blacks, Young focused on this union from the start. After winning the election of 1982, Young held a meeting with white business leaders, stating: “I didn’t get elected with your help,” but “I can’t govern without you.”

For this reason, many identify Young as a healer of Atlanta’s racial wounds. More than that, though, he accomplished his goal of transforming Atlanta into an international city in concrete ways. As a result of his terms in office, Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport (later Hartsfield-Jackson) established direct flights to Italy, Japan, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, and France. Also, Atlanta increased its number of foreign chambers of commerce from two to fifteen.

Truly, Andrew Young is a visionary. Whether predicting the election of the first black President over 35 years in advance or believing that the racially-divided city of Atlanta could host the 1996 Olympic Games, Young has embraced the possibility of future progress and change.

Works Cited
“Andrew Young,” King Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 4, 2009: http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia.
“Andrew Young,” New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 21, 2009: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org.

DeRoche, Andrew J. 2003. Andrew Young: Civil Rights Ambassador. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, Inc.
Complete with a timeline and photographs, this biography provides an account of Young’s life through 2003. The section on his mayoral position focuses on his international work.

Garrow, David J. 1986. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: W. Morrow.
This text includes in-depth coverage of the inner workings of the SCLC, including Young’s advancement to the rank of Executive Director.
McDonald, Marcie. “Showdown in Dixie.” Maclean’s 30 July 1990: 22.
This article describes the competition between Zell Miller, Johnny Isakson and Andrew Young in Atlanta’s gubernatorial race of 1990. The issue of race in voting appears as well as a historical analysis of each contender’s political career.


Schmidt, William E. “Atlanta’s Years of Progress Temper New Racial Disputes.” New York Times 5 May 1985: A1.
This article chronicles important developments in Atlanta’s growth as a multi-racial city, including highlights of the mayoral careers of Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young. The writer makes comparisons between Atlanta and other Southern cities for a fuller perspective.

Stone, Clarence N. 1989. Regime Politics: Governing Atlanta, 1946-1988. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas.
This book provides a historical outline of coalition-building between business elites and politicians in Atlanta beginning at the end of WWII. The author views Young’s election as the end of the powerful dominance of the white neighborhood movement.


Young, Andrew. 1996. An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Young’s most extensive autobiography to date.
Young, Andrew. “Obama: a special man for a serious time.” Los Angeles Times 25 January 2009: (page?)
In this article, Young himself comments on the September 26, 1971 news clip regarding the election of an African-American president of the United States. He explains why he first supported Senator Hillary Clinton before turning his attention to Senator Barack Obama.

Suggested Resources (click here)

Discussion Questions

1. Explain Young's images of the country as a “melting pot” and a the “stew pot,” and discuss the differences between the two.

2. Why do you think so many African American leaders like Young come out of the church?

3. Read the essay on our Atlanta pages on Mayor Maynard Jackson.   In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1970s, what issues and policies did they prioritize as public servants? How did their careers pave the way for African American leaders who have followed them?

4. Do you think that the work of African American mayors such as Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young may have paved the way for the first African American President, Barack Obama.


                                 Take it to the Streets!

In recent years, representations of American life have increasingly reflected the diversity of the nation. Examine the way different ethnicities are portrayed in the following:

People magazine
The Super Bowl
Newsweek
Pepsi or Coca-Cola advertisements
Essence magazine
Sports Illustrated
Prime time television
AOL.com
Soap Operas/Telenovelas
Miss America Pageant

Do the representations reflect Young's idea of America as a "stew pot" or do they reflect the traditional concept of a "melting pot"? Compare the ways cultural icons are used in prime time television and America's most-read publications. Is there a difference in the way cultures are portrayed in "mainstream" media than those that are designed for a particular racial or ethnic audience? Think about what audience your advertisement was targeting and how the demographic of the intended audience may have influenced the creation of the ad.

Writers: Morgann Lyles

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