Young relates several experiences in civil rights symposium


Photo by Lateef Oloko/Staff Photographer

Former U.S. Ambassador and former mayor of Atlanta, Georgia spent an hour talking about his experiences with civil rights, becoming a pastor and moving to Marion, Alabama, as well as his confronting members of the Klu Klux Klan in Florida.

Staff Report, The Hornet Tribune

Hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of Alabama State University gathered in the Ralph David Abernathy Hall auditorium Feb. 16 as former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, along with a distinguished panel of professionals, used their experiences in the civil rights movement to inspire activism among students.
Ambassador Young has earned worldwide recognition as a pioneer and champion of civil and human rights. His lifelong dedication to public service is illustrated by his extensive leadership experience of more than 66 years, serving as a member of Congress, the first African American U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, the mayor of Atlanta, and as an ordained minister.
Young, who worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr., started his career as a pastor in Marion, Alabama, where he became interested in non-violent protest after meeting his wife.
“I was blessed, and I never planned what I was doing … I didn’t want to go to Marion, Alabama, damn,” Young said as he chuckled. “I had a job in New York. I had a place to stay in a settlement house in Harlem. I was on Howard University’s track team, and I thought I was good enough to go for the Olympics. I was planning to train with a pioneer track club in New York, and this preacher called me and told me he needed me in Marion, Alabama. Well, I said I got a job in New York. He said, ‘yeah, but everybody wants to go to New York, and if you don’t go to New York, they’ll fill that job in 15 minutes.’ He said, ‘but nobody wants to go to Marion, Alabama, and if you don’t go there, we will probably lose a church.’”
Young continued describing his experience.
“The one thing I decided early on is that God put me on earth for some purpose, and there was something that I could do that nobody else could do, and if I found out what I could do that nobody else could do, I would be on the right track. Well, he (the preacher) had me cornered cause no one else would go to Marion, Alabama. But when I went to Alabama, I met this little girl. She was crazy, but she was cute. She had all of these non-violent ideas that I did not understand, and she had a Bible that was underlined. Frankly, none of the girls that I went with at Howard have Bibles. I don’t believe I saw a Bible on campus. So I figured that is what the Lord wanted me to do. So two years later, I married her, and we were married for forty years. I had an amazing career because I followed her.”
In the format of a fireside chat with Student Government Association (SGA) Executive President Dylan Stallworth, Young recounted many life experiences that he had encountered over the years fighting for civil rights as well as confrontations with the Klu Klux Klan.
However, he left students with an intriguing message.
“I have been having an argument with my grandchildren, and they think there is something wrong with this country, and I agree … Yeah, we have problems, but I have been to 152 countries, and I have enjoyed myself all over the world, but I’m always glad to get back here with all of our problems,” Young said.
He left the students with this thought, “We are making progress, despite the fact that we still have many, many problems. So that’s your job. Your job is to finish the job.”
The panel of historians and civil rights activists that included Dorothy Walker, Ph.D., site director of the Freedom Rides Museum, Howard Robinson, Ph.D., archivist for the Levi Watkins Learning Center and historian of the National Center for the study of Civil Rights and African American Studies, Vann Newkirk, Sr., Ph.D., former president of Fisk University, and Milton Davis, J.D., of Milton C. Davis Law Office, reminded the students of Alabama State University how college student activism led to change in America for the past 60 years and how students today, must take on the role of fervent activism if change is to occur.
The panelists, moderated by assistant professor Maurice Robinson, Ph.D., emphasized how historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) students have been pivotal in the civil rights movement.
“Student activism goes far beyond the civil rights movement,” Newkirk said. “… Much of the change in this nation started at HBCUs. For example, at the institution that I used to lead, Fisk University, in the early 1900s, there was a president who got rid of the student newspaper. Because of that, students went on a protest, a protest to get this voice back out there, led by W.E.B. Du Bois and others. That was one piece that led to the president and the way the university operated being changed … So by the time we got to the civil rights movement, we had an active relationship of students leading change on our campuses and in our nation. That comes from this activism of students who believe they can change the world.”
David agreed with the role of HBCUs.
“HBCUs have been the citadels, the champions, the stalwart castles as it relates to civil rights in America. We would not know our history if it were not for historically Black colleges and universities,” Davis said. “It was Howard University, under the leadership of Charles Hamilton Houston, as the dean of the law school at Howard, that helped to develop brand new theories of law that defeated Plessy vs. Ferguson, when the Supreme Court had declared that separate, but equal was the law of the land and was the interpretation of the Constitution. Had it not been for scholars like Charles Hamilton Houston, who trained Thurgood Marshall, who trained Belford Lawson, who delivered those arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. No other law school was teaching that. It had to be an HBCU with a mission to do that.”
On behalf of the state of Alabama’s governor’s office, Stacia Robinson, the director of minority affairs, presented former Ambassador Young with a commendation from Gov. Kay Ivey for his exemplary work.
University President Quinton T. Ross, Jr., Ed.D., thanked the students who were in attendance, as well as associate vice president for Student Support and Special Initiatives Tanjula Petty, Ed.D., and her team as well as the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE), president, James Purcell, Ph.D., who provided a grant to help fund the symposium.
“I am thankful that we have a champion and hero that is still here that can put us in touch with all of those living legends that literally changed the world,” Ross said. “He knows up close and personal the names that you see that are on these buildings – Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph David Abernathy and Fred D. Reese.”