Study Guide

Andrew Young in I've Been to the Mountaintop

By Martin Luther King, Jr.

Andrew Young

Andrew Young's had a substantial career in civic engagement and public service post-Civil Rights Movement. In 1972, he was elected to Congress, becoming the first African American representative from Georgia in a century; his predecessor was Jefferson Franklin Long, elected in 1870. (To find out why there's such a huge gap there, you should elect to check out our handy-dandy guide to Reconstruction.)

Young was re-elected two more times; he resigned his seat in Congress in 1977 when President Jimmy Carter appointed him U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Young had been interested in international affairs during his time in Congress, so it suited him fine to become the Carter administration's point man on Asian and African foreign policy.

But actually, it didn't turn out that well. Two years after he started at the U.N., Young got in hot water for meeting secretly with a representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The situation was complicated, but basically, the U.S. had promised Israel it wouldn't talk to the PLO; the "secret" meeting was reported by a news outlet, and Andrew Young had to take the blame (source).

So he resigned. Again. But you can't keep this guy down. He became mayor of Atlanta from 1982–1990 and brought the 1996 Olympics there, which is super cool. We can't wait for the Olympics. Although we still have no idea what "dressage" is.

After his time as mayor, Young ran unsuccessfully for governor of Georgia. That just meant he had all that time not-governing to spend on things like international development nonprofits, which is what Andrew Young is probably doing right at this moment. Or he might be taking a bath. Who knows?

Now, let's reminisce about young Andrew Young.

Young Andrew Young

Andrew Young met Dr. King in 1957, when they both spoke at a fraternity event in Alabama. The meeting didn't go that great.

Young, who was then a practicing New York minister, was familiar with King's successful nonviolent campaign in Montgomery and wanted to ask him about it. King, on the other hand, wanted to be that annoying person on social media who won't shut up about his baby. (Baby Yolanda, in King's case.)

Young kind of ended up joining the SCLC through the back door. In 1961, he accepted an offer to run the Citizenship Training Program at a place called Highlander Folk School, a place where integrated groups were tutored in civil rights activism.

Unfortunately, before Young could take up his post, the school closed. Fortunately, the program was absorbed into SCLC, and Andrew Young along with it.

The King Ring

Young was an important guy in the SCLC, a member of Dr. King's inner circle. He played a key role in the Birmingham campaign and then, in 1964, became executive director, all of which surely involved hearing a lot more about those babies, but with some civil rights stuff thrown in.

Young's usual role in SCLC meetings was the cautious contrarian. He was the one who often said, eh, I'm not so sure about this, guys—the "conservative view," as Dr. K called it. King valued this diversity in his team:

The only time [Dr. King] really got mad with me was when I wouldn't disagree with everybody. […] A movement needed wild ideas and radical notions, but it also needed to be pulled back into perspective, to do something that was actually doable and attainable. He said, "Andy, […] if you don't end up giving the conservative view, you don't leave me any room to come down in the middle." (Source)

So, that was Andrew Young's job. His final job for Dr. King was to argue in court against Mayor Loeb's injunction, which made it illegal for anyone from out of state to participate in a demonstration. The day after "I've Been to the Mountaintop," Young and the SCLC team prevailed: the injunction was lifted. Their march was legal.

Young returned to the Lorraine Motel, arriving just an hour or so before King's assassination. He thought the shot was a car backfiring and that King was playing a prank. Unfortunately, no prank.

When Young realized what had happened, he was devastated. Because, all in all, he was glad he got involved with the Civil Rights Movement, and with MLK in particular. In fact, he said that Dr. K gave his life "purpose and sustenance": "It is by the quality of those days that I have come to measure my own continuing journey" (source).

A Journey That Continues to This Day…Like, He Tweeted a Few Hours Ago

Since then, Young has received a heap of awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the French Légion d'Honneur, and more honorary degrees than you can shake a stick at, if you're into shaking sticks at honorary degrees. It takes all kinds.

And it definitely takes kinds like Andrew Young. He's still hashing it out in the public arena; he's even decided to brave Twitter. But then, he's dealt with attack dogs before, so.

In any case, he's one tough, persistent cookie. The next time things aren't going your way, think of Andrew Young. Then dry your tears and go start a nonprofit.