Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
As the nation commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, civil rights icon, diplomat, and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young reflected on King’s legacy and progress in America since the 1960s.
One of the last surviving members of King’s inner circle, Young, sat down for an exclusive interview on PBS-TV’s The Chavis Chronicles with National Newspaper Publishers Association President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., where he shared valuable insights into his historical journey as a leader of the civil rights movement and his own enduring legacy.
“I do this,” Young said, reflecting on challenging injustices like the false arrest and imprisonment of the Wilmington Ten in the 1970s, “because it’s the right thing to do. I wasn’t being militant or outspoken I was trying to get people to see just what it is.”
From his beginnings in segregated schools in New Orleans to his early graduation from Howard University and later studies at Hartford Theological Seminary, Young’s commitment to justice emerged during his time as a pastor in southern Georgia. Organizing voter registration drives in the face of death threats, he played a crucial role in the campaigns leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Elected to congress in 1972, Young became the first African American representative from the Deep South since Reconstruction. His legislative efforts included establishing the U.S. Institute for Peace, The African Development Bank, and the Chattahoochee River National Park. He left an indelible mark on the city by negotiating federal funds for vital infrastructure projects in Atlanta.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Young as the first African American Ambassador to the United Nations, where he played a crucial role in shaping U.S.-Africa policy based on human rights. His efforts contributed to ending white-minority rule in Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Reflecting on his experiences, Young shares poignant moments during the interview, including facing violence during the Civil Rights movement. He recalls, “When the Klan came marching down in the community, they wanted to provoke a fight. They had guns under their sheets in Lincolnville, Florida,” he noted. “The same Black folks who got beat up with me said they had the love of Jesus in their hearts; that spiritual witness of nonviolence and forgiveness moved the Congress, and the next week they passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”
Assessing the progress in civil rights, Young emphasizes the strides made, saying, “If anybody says things are no better now than they were then, they don’t understand how well we have it now.” He acknowledges the challenges but underscores the opportunities for education and progress.
As Young reflects on Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, he interprets it as a call for equal opportunity. “We are no longer slaves; we have equal opportunity to make this a great nation if we are able to work hard. The educational opportunities are opening up,” says Young. He acknowledges the partnership with white folks that contributed to Atlanta’s success.
Young said he remains optimistic about the nation’s future, echoing Dr. King’s words: “It’s inevitable to me that this nation, as Martin Luther King said, will live out, one day, the true meaning of its creed.”