Andrew Young to Democrats: Work hard, keep faith
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young urged local Democrats to work hard and have faith that things can change – even in an apparent Republican stronghold like Coweta County.
Young was the keynote speaker for the Coweta County Democratic Party’s annual Atkinson-Arnall Tribute. The packed event was held at Something Special on Saturday with about 100 in attendance.
Young said his goal is “to get the people of Georgia to believe in themselves and believe that we can make a difference in what happens.” He added, “If we can make it happen in Georgia, in Coweta County, we can make it happen in other places. We can change the world.”
Young received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his remarks.
“I’ve seen things change. I’ve seen people change. It’s always been miraculous, and it’s always been a handful of people,” Young said.
He recalled winning majority white precincts in his race for Congress. “Georgia politics is never what anyone thinks it is. It’s never what anyone says it is. It is always what the people make it,” Young said.
During his remarks, Young pulled from his experiences as a Civil Rights activist, a congressman, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, mayor of Atlanta and a key leader in bringing the Olympics to Atlanta in 1996.
A key theme was his grandmother’s saying about “making a way out of no way.”
A meeting at the White House with Lyndon Johnson was the setting for one of Young’s stories. Young was there with Martin Luther King Jr., meeting with the president to urge a voting rights act bill, similar to other Civil Rights legislation that had passed.
Johnson told them he had spent his political capital and that he did not see a way to get the voting rights bill passed. “As we walked out of that meeting, it was late at night. Some folks were kind of depressed,” Young said.
King told his colleagues that night, “I think we’ve got to get the president some power.”
“That was not arrogance. That was faith. He knew what the right thing was, and he just wanted to do it,” Young reflected.
Soon thereafter, Amelia Boynton, a woman from Selma, Ala., pleaded with King to come to Selma because of the difficulties she was encountering in trying to register black voters.
Many Civil Rights leaders were pastors, and Jan. 1 was a Sunday, so the Selma-Montgomery march began Jan. 2. “A preacher can’t miss his church the first Sunday of the new year,” Young, himself a minister, said.
The nationwide focus on the march gave Johnson the power King wanted him to have. By March 20, the president was standing before a joint session of Congress with voting rights legislation. Young recalled Johnson finished his talk with the words of a Civil Rights anthem: “We shall overcome.”
“Dr. King was not the kind of person who knew how something like that was going to” unfold, Young said. King was willing to give his time, talents – all that he had – for a cause he believed just.
Young recalled attending an Atlanta Chamber of Commerce meeting early in his mayoral term. There were many concerns “about how Atlanta was going to make it in a world where everybody seemed to be in recession,” he recalled.
With his recent experience at the United Nations, Young knew not everyone was in recession and that there were people in the world who did have money and were looking to make more. “I knew things they didn’t know,” Young recalled.
One thing he knew was that Japan Airlines was looking for “a place for a U.S. headquarters,” he said. He told Atlanta’s business leaders Atlanta must become an international city.
Soon, Japan Airline and Swiss Air opened headquarters in Atlanta, and Lufthansa opened a freight port. One result of Atlanta’s transition to an international city was “you all got a Yamaha plant here in Newnan,” Young said.
“You need to go tell people that was a crazy Democratic plot,” he said – provoking laughter.
“People say Democrats are not great economists, but we are great developers,” Young said. He said Democrats have a knack for coming up with a good idea and then finding a way to “make it make money.”
He said he and other Democrats understood there was money to be made by foreign companies in Georgia because “the United States market is still the most powerful economy in the world.”
He also knew, from his travels, that the Japanese “like golf and love ‘Gone With the Wind.’” All of those lifestyle factors were used to court Japanese investment in an “Atlanta” economy that Young said now stretches from Jacksonville, Fla., to Nashville, Tenn.
The growth in the early part of Young’s tenure as mayor brought a million new jobs “before we ever thought of the Olympics.”
He talked about the costs – and benefits – of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. He said there are few companies in the world that generate the dollars the airport generates.
“Atlanta’s airports make more money than Nigeria’s gold,” he said. “We have become part of the global economy.”
He also remembered Bill Clinton’s narrow victory in Georgia when he was running for president.
“It’s very simple. Bill Clinton says everybody in his campaign had written off Georgia. We got together, and we were having a rally in DeKalb County at the football stadium,” Young recalled.
Baseball icon Hank Aaron offered to speak at the rally. Clinton agreed to come to the rally even though “all the experts said, ‘You’re wasting your time,’” Young related.
“He figured it was worth taking a detour to come through Georgia. The result was that we carried Georgia by 11,000 votes,” Young said. He estimated there were 20,000-30,000 people at the DeKalb rally.
Conventional wisdom was “that we couldn’t carry Georgia back then,” Young said.
Young referred to Ellis Arnall, a governor from Newnan, as a hero, but said he also had known – and had a cordial relationship with – less progressive Democrats. “I was also a good friend of Herman Talmadge, and Lester Maddox and I got along very, very well,” Young said.
He said the Democratic Party has been diverse and has always been “ahead of our time and thinking strange” in terms of the status quo. “We’ve dragged the nation – and the world – along with us,” he said.