Andrew Young: A Giant Among Us

Today’s post was written by Billy R. Glasco, Jr., archivist at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.

three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing left of Congressman Young
Andrew Young, a Democratic Congressman from Georgia, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing left, May 6, 1976 (Library of Congress)

March 12, 2021 marked the 89th birthday of a leader that serves as a gatekeeper to our understanding of the most preeminent era in Black History. A pastor who spread the practice of non-violence in the rural South at the risk of being killed.  An activist who participated in the most pivotal acts of protest for the suffrage of African Americans. A man who witnessed the assassination of his beloved friend who would become the everlasting symbol for civil rights.  A politician and diplomat who successfully transitioned his stance for human rights into an international campaign.  In recognition, The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum celebrates the life of Ambassador Andrew Young.

Andrew Jackson Young, Jr. was born March 12, 1932 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Young graduated from Howard University in 1951 and later earned his divinity degree from Hartford Seminary in 1955.

After graduating from seminary school, Young began his pastoral ministry in Marion, Alabama.  Young, as did many of his contemporaries, practiced the nonviolent philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi as a weapon to combat systemic racism in the American South.  Young became involved in the voting rights movement in Alabama, and would assist local organizations’ efforts to encourage African Americans to register to vote.  

Young standing, with Lewis, Williams, Boynton kneeling in prayer
John Lewis, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young and Amelia Boynton Praying before Bloody Sunday (NAID 16898979)

In the early sixties, Young moved to Atlanta, Georgia and joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  At this time, he became friends with SCLC’s leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  In 1963, Young was instrumental in strategic planning for the Birmingham protests and the March on Washington.  In 1964, Young became the executive director of SCLC.  During his tenure as executive director, he was a key strategist in the major Civil Rights campaigns of Birmingham, Selma, and Atlanta.  Young’s prominence in the momentum of the Civil Rights movement led to constant death threats from white supremacists, and garnered attention from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Records related to Andrew Young and the FBI can be found in the Classification 44 (Civil Rights) Headquarters Case Files (NAID 2329984), Classification 157 (Civil Unrest) Case Files (NAID 1450334), and Classification 44 (Civil Rights) Case Files (Atlanta Office) (NAID 2544459).  Young was also with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968.

Young speaking w/his hand outstretched
Andy Young leads discussion, annual Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff workshop Penn Center, Frogmore, SC 1966 (Bob Fitch Photography Archive, Stanford University)
Young sitting beside Dr. King taking notes in a book
Andy Young, Martin Luther King Jr., Greenwood, AL people to people speaking tour 1966 (Bob Fitch Photography Archive, Stanford University)

In 1972, Young became the first African American from Georgia since Reconstruction to be elected to the United States Congress when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District.  While serving in Congress, Young served in the notable Congressional Black Caucus and Banking and Urban Development Committee.  As a Congressman, Young was also instrumental in enacting legislation that created the U.S. Institute for Peace.  Young also used his political influence to further the prosperity of his home state of Georgia by allocating funds to improve highway infrastructure in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area (NAID 7970179) and creating the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (NAID 643650).

In 1977, Young was appointed as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations by President Jimmy Carter.  Young was the first African American to be appointed to this position.  As Ambassador, Young led negotiations to end the 15 year civil war in Rhodesia that would lead to the creation of the Republic of Zimbabwe.  

Young w/hand on Bible standing in front of Thurgood Marshall, with President Carter in background
Swearing-in of Andrew Young as U.S. Representative to the United Nations by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Jan 30, 1977 (NAID 173525)

In 1981, Young was elected as the second African American Mayor of Atlanta.  During Young’s tenure as mayor, he brought in $70 million dollars in private investments that boosted the city’s economy.  Young also continued the initiative of his predecessor and first African American Mayor of Atlanta Maynard Jackson by including businesses owned by people of color in all of Atlanta’s city contracts.  Young would continue to establish Atlanta as a cultural epicenter for Black America after his re-election as mayor in 1985 with an overwhelming 80 percent of the vote.  Young is recorded speaking of his life as a civil rights activist and public servant in the U.S. Information Agency’s Video Recordings from the “Electronic Dialogue” Program Series, 1900-2003 (NAID 55903 and NAID 55904).

As the quintessential generation of American heroes from the Civil Rights Era accord their lives to the ages, it is important to revere the national treasures we still have with us.  Andrew Young is one of these treasures – a giant who still walks among us.  

Young, the Carters, King, and others w/joined hands, standing and singing
Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter sing with Martin Luther King, Sr., Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young and other civil rights leader during a visit to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Jan 14, 1979 (NAID 183007)

Records and other resources related to Ambassador Andrew Young at The National Archives and Records Administration

Articles related to Andrew Young in Rediscovering Black History

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