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Essay: Andrew Young: Revising US History with Civil Rights and Beyond

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Dillon Clark

Professor Gibbons

United States History II

1 April 2018

Andrew Young: A Man Who Set Out to Change America

Throughout American history there have always been great leaders; they have changed America, creating the pluralistic democracy that now exists today. As this nation evolved, like any other nation it faced many obstacles. Just to name a couple from the modern era, these obstacles included civil rights, and developing an international and cohesive identity as a nation. America, compared to her European and Asian counterparts, is a young nation who has struggled to find her own identity and to make her claim in the world. Many of her great leaders have helped to shape this young democracy into the powerful, world steering superpower that it is now today. Just one of those leaders who helped to reform America is Andrew Young. He was a confidant to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he helped to push forward civil rights in America. By participating in King’s many marches, Young set out to reform the United States domestically and to create a truly inclusive democracy. After his time with Martin Luther King Jr, Young went on to become the fourteenth United States Ambassador to the United Nations, from January 30th, 1977 to January 29th, 1977 (Andrew Young Biography). He helped the United States face many conflicts abroad and helped the United States to develop her international identity as a peacekeeper. Andrew Young as observed from his actions with the civil rights movement, and his service in the United Nations, may be considered one of the most prominent figures that are still alive today in the United States of America.

To begin, Andrew Young was born to Andrew Young Sr., a dentist, and his mother, Daisy Young, in the Southern town of New Orleans, Louisiana. Though like any other Southern city, New Orleans was segregated but Andrew Young was able to grow up somewhat peaceful despite this. Growing up in New Orleans was an enriching experience because the city was very culturally diverse. Due to the city's segregation and also its diversity it allowed Young to become an effective communicator to others that may have different life experiences than him. Young’s family “instilled their children with pride and self-respect. The elder Young hired a professional prizefighter to teach his sons to defend themselves so they could not be easily intimidated” (Andrew Young Biography). Young was a man most interested in sports, but he had quite an academic prowess while he was in high school. He went on to graduate from Howard University with a Biology degree although his family was spiritual, he was not called to spirituality until later on in his life. After he finished his degree he later went on to go to divinity school at Hartford Theological Seminary (Andrew Young Biography).

It was ultimately religion that called Young to participate in the civil rights movement, his Christian morals lead him forward in life. Young went on to become a pastor after divinity school and the right-hand-man of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. He helped King to conduct the SCLC, or Southern Christian Leadership Conference. His involvement with King had helped him to focus his own message; he helped King to communicate with the rest of the world and championed his ideas throughout all aspects of his life. Young saw King’s message, he believed in equality for all and he championed this American ideal. He realized that if America were to move forward and become a superpower it was not only military might that was going to make the United States powerful. The United States must also become a true beacon of liberty, an ardent defender of democracy and human rights both domestically and internationally (Andrew Young Biography).

In continuation, Young fought for civil rights very vehemently through the guidance of Martin Luther King and also the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “Young assisted in the organization of “citizenship schools” for the SCLC, workshops that taught non-violent organizing strategies to local people whom members of the organization had identified as potential leaders” (Opinde). The Southern Christian Leadership conference used the training session workshops in order to cultivate new leaders who would eventually lead the charge for the American Civil Rights movement as it progressed onward. They further used these sessions in order to register voters in the South—they focused on African American communities who were silenced; they lived lives of oppression due to the oppressive Jim Crow Era laws that existed withinside the Southern states of America (Opinde).

Furthermore, Young sought to dismantle this system, he wanted real change for African Americans and for them to truly become fully participatory citizens of the United States of America. He viewed the Jim Crow Era as a moral issue withinside the United States and joined with Martin Luther King for that very cause (Opinde). They wanted change and would no longer buy into the false promises that have been handed down throughout American history to African Americans. This concept is heard in Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, I Have A Dream:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” … Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” (Teaching American History)

Additionally, Young was there at Washington D.C with King marching across the city. He was majorly influenced by this, he believed in King’s message and he was willing to carry this dream out. He was willing to turn this dream into reality and wanted a world where all people, not just white people, were to be truly equal in the United States of America. This drive leads Young to be a close confidant of Martin Luther King Jr.; as time elapsed Young’s place as King’s right hand became cemented. Whenever the King family would move the Young family would be in hot pursuit behind them, following them to invigorate their movement. Martin Luther King relied upon much of Andrew Young’s ability as a negotiator to help elegantly speak to the Southern white institutions which sought to oppress them. Though their fruitful labors did not always end in the best of results, with both King and Young ending up in prison from their movements both on Selma and Birmingham. Young was inspired so greatly by the march of Washington D.C that a year after that event had occurred; Young went on to become the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. As the civil rights movement began to draw to a close with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 and King’s eventual assassination, Young began new endeavors. He became the fourteenth ambassador from the United States to the United Nations in 1977 (Andrew Young Biography).

Likewise, Young took his ideas from the civil rights movement and implemented them on an international stage when he became the United States ambassador to the United Nations. His ideology that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement helped him to recognize issues abroad. Young took his fervor and passion for human rights and exemplified them through the ambassadorship to the United Nations. “Anti-Racism drove the anti-colonialism that characterized U.S. activists’ approach to African independence. This perspective also influenced their perceptions of national liberation struggles outside of Africa. Young opposed the Dominican intervention in 1965, considering it racist” (Plummer 566). Young was driven by his anti-racist past to rectify United States actions abroad; he sought for the United States to become an international beacon of liberty, peace, anti-colonialism, and anti-racism abroad. To him this was the ultimate goal, this was the message of King. Young was to bring the Civil Rights Movement outside of the United States, to apply it’s democratic, anti-racist ideologies to the rest of the world and to guide the United States to represent King’s dream. Young carried this dream in his heart, he dreamt of a world in which there was no racism domestically and internationally; where international actions and policy were guided through level-headed and non-prejudice ways.

Coupled with this, during Andrew Young’s tenure as a United Nations ambassador, he fought for civil rights in Africa. He sought to empower Africans to combat the oppressive British rule and to help them to come to their own freedom. Young and the Ford administration had quite a difficult time dealing with apartheid South Africa. Due to his civil rights ideas, Young believed that “South Africa Should be made to face that the interests of the United States are not conterminous or reconcilable with those of the present Voster government” (DeRoche 65). South Africa’s apartheid system stood for everything that Young had spent his life trying to abolish in the United States. To him, the way in which South Africa operated seemed like an assault on human rights, on civil rights. He would not stand for this and the continuous mistreatment of the African men and women by the wealthy white men who controlled South Africa. During 1977, British attitudes toward Africa began to change, it was time to embrace the reality that the British Empire was about to meet her death (DeRoche 64-65).

Likewise, Young thought that this would be beneficial to the African people; when the United States began its civil rights movement it had become a beacon of change and a beacon of human rights. He claims that “The new climate was further improved by a new African confidence in the U.S commitment to human rights and to the values and principles articulated in the U.N charter” (Young 649). Young saw all imperialist transgression on Africa as racism; they were detrimental to the African people. It was ultimately his experience with the civil rights movement that leads him to champion decolonization. His life purpose was freedom—freedom, democracy, and human rights for all. Young felt as if the civil rights movement needed to exit the United States and be experienced by the entire world. He wanted to carry the tides of change that helped people of color achieve their rights in the United States to the international stage. Young made that his life mission, fighting for people who had their basic human rights denied.

In conclusion, Andrew Young has been among the most notable people in the history of the United States. His efforts helped to shape the United States into the country that is is today; Young’s civil rights efforts have had lasting effects on the laws and society that is present today. From his work in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to his work as an ambassador, Young helped to quell issues of race and ethnicity both domestically and abroad. He made that his life mission, he sought to spread democracy, human rights, and improve the lives of those who are being oppressed by society. Young was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and he carried his messages with him throughout his entire life. Today the people of the United States look back on to to the civil rights movement that had taken place in the 1960’s. They look back to Young and to King for guidance in modern civil rights movements. The LGBTQIA+ movement was inspired by the fight that Young had begun long ago and has only come to its fruition with the ratification of gay marriage by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2015. These movements all trace their roots back to the civil rights movement from the 60’s. All of it is due to Young, who grew up in a divided country of racial segregation, just wanting change for people who were oppressed. So as America stands on the brink of a murky future she may wonder: who will be the next person to lead this country to greatness, to champion the people who are currently being oppressed? America will search for her next Andrew Young and that person will come with all the power of freedom, liberty, and democracy behind them.

Works Cited

“Andrew J. Young.” Academy of Achievement, 18 April 2018, www.achievement.org/achiever/andrew-young/. Accessed 23 April 2018.[b]

“Civil Rights Era.” Teaching American History, Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/i-have-a-dream-speech/. Accessed 23 April 2018. [b]

DeRoche, Andrew. Andrew Young: Civil Rights Ambassador. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003. [a]

Opinde, Walter. “Former Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young.” Black Then. 25 June 2017, blackthen.com/former-mayor-united-nations-ambassador-andrew-young/. Accessed 23 April 2018. [b]

Plummer, Brenda Gayle. "Black Ambassador: Andrew Young Appraised." Diplomatic History, vol. 29, no. 3, June 2005, pp. 565-567. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.2005.00505.x. [c]

Young, Andrew. “The United States and Africa: Victory for Diplomacy.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 59, no. 3, 1980, pp. 648–666. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20040812. [c]

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