The failure of lawmakers to get a current civil rights bill, the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, and an unbiased voting measure through Congress can be traced back to the obvious, including the power grab made by Conservatives; and the not-so-obvious: the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young, a civil rights icon and two-term Atlanta mayor, said Republicans stacking the courts and appointing GOP-friendly federal judges have cut into the progress he and others made during the civil rights era.
Along with King, the late Rep. John Lewis, and Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Young was an unquestioned leader in the American Civil Rights Movement.
Young’s career in civil rights began in 1954 with voting registration drives despite numerous threats to his life.
He worked with the National Council of Churches before leading the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Citizenship Schools where he and King taught non-violent strategies to push the civil rights movement forward.
Most have pointed to Young’s strategic negotiation skills that led to President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
In an exclusive interview with the Black Press at his illustrious office in Atlanta, the 91-year-old icon said he also believes some of the damage done by the modern Republican Party, particularly to African Americans, is a result of individuals seeking their own advantage.
“We got to 1969, after Dr. King’s death, where everybody wanted to run for president. Shirley Chisholm, Dick Gregory, and Eldridge Cleaver,” Young said. “There must have been 20 Black folks running for president, not that they didn’t have the right to do so.”
Nearly 40 years before Barack Obama became the first Black U.S. President, Young said he realized an African American couldn’t win a presidential election.
“I wasn’t sure you could get elected to Congress,” Young said.
In Atlanta, however, the landscape differed from what was occurring nationally. In 1963, prominent civil rights advisor Leroy Johnson became the first Black person elected to the Georgia General Assembly since Reconstruction ended.
More than 10 years later, Maynard Jackson won the race for mayor of Atlanta, where he would serve three terms. His third term came after Young had held the office for two terms.
Jackson’s vision turned the city’s airport into one of the biggest in the world, made Atlanta a global destination, and paved the way for the 1996 Olympic Games to take place in the city.
“We took over Atlanta little by little. Finally, Maynard took over and ran for mayor, and when he came, he could do things like build the world’s busiest airports—or at least get the process started,” Young told NNPA Newswire. “We knew that after Dr. King died, there were too many people with too much ambition and too little humility.
“So, from 1968 when Dr. King was killed, and Bobby Kennedy was killed and, before them, Malcolm X was killed, people were getting killed, and people felt they had to do something to get out. People wanted to get killed.
“It wasn’t rational. It disrupted us from a tactical plan that we all had.”
That plan included ensuring fair-minded judges were seated on federal benches and on the Supreme Court.
“When I came to Georgia in 1954, I voted Republican,” Young said.
“Maynard Jackson’s grandfather (John Wesley Dobbs) told me if you vote for Democrats, and I liked [Adlai] Stevenson, but [Dobbs] told me that Stevenson is a Democrat and if he’s nominated then [Sens.] Richard Russell and Theodore Bilbo would get to name the judges.
“However, if [Dwight] Eisenhower is elected president, they won’t have any White Republicans down there, which would force them to come to us and ask, who are the White people you trust and respect that should be nominated for judge?
“We would tell them who we trusted and respected, and that’s who they’d pick, and that’s why we achieved in the South more than they did in the North.”
Offering proof of why that strategy worked, Young said at the time that a Republican, Eisenhower, appointed all the judges.
“Because someone Black recommended the judge, every single case in the 1960s, and you can’t find a case solved in a courtroom where a Democrat had appointed a judge, we won,” he said.
“Those little things were important to the progress, and it made a big difference.
“Today, we’ve lost the right to appoint justices because we lost presidential elections. Walter Mondale (1984) and Michael Dukakis (1988) lost important presidential elections. As a result, Reagan got to appoint four judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, and George H.W. Bush appointed Clarence Thomas.”