It’s forever a burning question, particularly as many African-Americans soul-search, reminisce and speculate during Black History Month.
“What would Martin Luther King Jr. say today?”
To Andrew Young, one of the few still alive who knew the slain civil rights leader intimately, the question had already been answered by King himself — 60 years ago, and 11 years before his assassination in Memphis.
“In 1957, when King was organizing, he said he was doing so to redeem the soul of America from the triple evil of racism, war and poverty,” Young said. “The problems I see now are not racism and I think we’re getting on top of war. It’s not that racism doesn’t exist, but what happened in Ferguson, for instance, was not a race problem, it was a job problem. You have an explosive situation that took on a racial connotation because they’re not enough jobs.”
It is something that the former United Nations ambassador and Atlanta mayor continues to strive to find solutions for.
Through his Andrew Young Foundation, the man who helped draft both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 works to support, promote and develop global institutions and leaders.
He then helps to infuse in those institutions and leaders’ knowledge to improve and enhance social and economic justice and human rights through nonviolent action, democratic institutions and social responsible for-profit corporations.
“We work to one day see a just and prosperous global society made whole through humanitarian service, civic participation, philanthropy and good works,” Young said.
Currently, Young has two pet projects. One is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of the District of Columbia to develop a program to empower small farmers by providing them technical knowledge on growing duckweed as a cash crop and integrating it with aquaponics farming system by growing shrimp beneath duckweed.
His foundation is recruiting, organizing, and training farmers from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and Arkansas to grow duckweed that could be used as a fodder for animals and fish, and as a soil builder.
The farmers will be able to increase their productivity while reducing their physical labor requirements.
“What we’re trying to do is continue the work that I was doing,” Young said. “Someone asked me back then [if] I have a bucket list. I said, yes I did, and it was right about the time of that the 50th anniversary of the Selma march that we were back in Alabama and realized a lot of those farmers, who really made sacrifices and whose houses got shot up and beat up with us and thrown in jail, were still there.
“And while their children profited from integration, they were still there, too old to farm like they had been, so I got involved with trying to find way to help them,” he said.
A second and most ambitious project revolves around U.S. ports, which are expected to spend $46 billion in improvements by this year but without guarantees that mega-ships will call on these ports.
“It’s called a Mobile Harbor that we can do right here in Savannah and its equipped with an automatic docking system and a stabilized crane,” Young said. “A Mobile Harbor can be built 20 to 30 miles out in the ocean and can attach to any mega container size vessel and offload it onto smaller ships and barges or the buffer area.
“It can simultaneously call on one to six mega ships and can cater to the existing ports as a hub and spoke assembly thereby creating jobs and keeping the existing U.S ports pertinent,” he said.
Born in 1932 in New Orleans, Young attended Dillard University and later earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from Howard. He also attended the Hartford Theological Seminary.
Young began working with voter registration and voter education projects while working for the National Council of Churches where he worked with King.
A former executive director of the SCLC, Young won a seat in Congress in 1972 and, four years later, President Jimmy Carter named him ambassador to the United Nations. In 1981, Young won election as mayor of Atlanta and served two terms.
He later spearheaded Atlanta’s successful bid for the 1996 Olympics.
Young differs with Rep. John Lewis, his civil rights contemporary, on the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“We lost. it wasn’t the Russians,” Young said. “I’m not happy about it but Trump understood the needs of the unemployed and the fears of people who blamed all their problems on terrorism and the lack of jobs. People bought into his version because we didn’t give them another version.”
For instance, Young said there’s a myth that Korea stole all of the steel industry jobs. However, he said a visit to Korea and the steel industry revealed that very few people work in the industry.
“Machines [are] what took the jobs,” Young said.
He also noted that white men, much more so than blacks, have been the biggest losers in the American economy and Congress bears a lot of the blame.
“You have half of the people in Congress bragging that they don’t have passports,” he said. “How are you going to run the world? The business community is operating in a global economy while Congress is still thinking about a national economy.
“Black people are secure enough to hold their own now,” Young said. “I was at a football game in Alabama and they don’t even let the white players toss the coin anymore.
“White leadership hasn’t served white men too well,” he said. “They’ve blamed their condition on Obama. He gave them health care but they wouldn’t take it because they wanted guns. Guns aren’t helping them with their illnesses.”
Young praised Carter, Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy as great presidents.
He said Carter refused to comprise the lives of Americans to go to war even though it meant losing re-election. Johnson, he said, got what he wanted from King and others in the civil rights movement but gave what black leaders needed, while Kennedy also did his part.
As for Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, Young said time will eventually place Obama among the greats.
“Obama, virtually miraculous, changed the world for everyone,” Young said. “The world was really messed up when he took over. We were involved in two or three wars; the economy was crashing and our health situation had totally deteriorated while the auto industry had just about collapsed.
“Not only did Obama straighten all of that out, he did it with everyone working against him,” he said. “Obama will go down as truly one of the great ones.”