Ambassador Andrew Young, longtime civil rights activist and statesman, visited the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce on April 18. A former U.S. Congressman, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former mayor of Atlanta, Young participated in a series of events that culminated in the re-naming of the former Hall of Languages to David Talbot Hall in honor of the late Dr. David A. Talbot.
Young began the day's events with an address at Ferguson Auditorium on the campus of A&M-Commerce. An audio transcript follows.
Noah Nelson: Good morning everyone. I'm Noah Nelson, vice president in charge of media relations for A&M-Commerce. Welcome to this very special event in the Rayburn Speaker Series. It's special today, not just because of our speaker and his prestige, but because of a very important recognition that's going to happen involving president Ray Keck for the end of this program and here's a spoiler alert. It has something do with this medallion right here. There are lots of us out here today and I can feel the buzz in this room. Maybe it's because our speaker is such an exceptional person. Listen to this. He is a former U.N .Ambassador, former Congressman, Mayor of Atlanta and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King. He is Mr. Andrew Young. He's waiting off stage, but he can hear it, so give him applause. Under normal circumstances I get to make the introductions, but not today. I don't get that pleasure today. Here to introduce Ambassador Young is someone who's known him for more than 50 years. He was a close aide and confidant of Dr. King as well. He is now a close friend of this university and A&M-Commerce. Please welcome educator, author and scholar, Dr. Robert Green.
Robert Green: A pleasure being here. I love your campus. A beautiful campus. I understand you have 13,500 wonderful, diverse students here at this university and President Keck, I am happy to be here on your campus. To the board of regents, thank you for placing such a wonderful man out here in a leadership role. We're all thankful for him. It's a pleasure to introduce to you a man that I've known for more than 55 years. Andrew Jackson Young. He's known as an ambassador, a congressman, a mayor, but I've known him as a friend and as a family man. I want to say that Ambassador Young recruited me to work with Martin Luther King, Jr. I want to say publicly, I want you all to give a big hand to this. Thank you, Andrew Young, for giving me an opportunity to know Martin Luther King Jr., to work with him, to travel with him and to know him as a great leader. Thank you, Andrew Young.
Andrew Young: He asked me not to give a long introduction. I promised him it won't be. I got the message. I got the message. He has a lot to offer. I want to say this one thing about Ambassador Young. Each time that we talk, I learn something new. Not just about him, but about Martin Luther King Jr., about Lyndon B. Johnson, about John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I remember one story. I don't know if I should tell this one. I'm going to tell it anyway.
There's a famous picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Fitzgerald Kennedy almost nose to nose in the rose garden talking. When that ended, Ambassador Young cornered him and said, "What were you all talking about?" He said, "Well Kennedy was just telling me to watch my step, that J. Edgar Hoover was watching me." That was nothing new. Again, I'll stop. You have the bio on him.
It's my pleasure to bring to you, present to you a close personal friend. A person who Martin Luther King, Jr. would never make a serious decision unless he talked to Andrew Young. I could hear his voice say, "Where is Andy? Will someone go get Andy? I'm not going to make a decision until I talk to Andy Young." I give to you my friend, my colleague, just a special person. Andrew Jackson Young, and that was not a long introduction.
Andrew Young: Thanks very much. You know, it's always a challenge in talking with young people because you don't know what they're interested in. I just want to say though that it doesn't matter what we're interested in. The world is interested in all of us. Everybody was put on this earth for some purpose and I first came to Texas and realized that in 1951 when I'd finished college and didn't know what I was going to do. It suddenly dawned on me that everybody has a purpose. I started finding that out in it was a little part out in West Texas, but that's what I hope you do. I hope you realize that everybody is a part of a movement. You can call it civil rights sometimes, you can call it politics. It doesn't matter how you label it.
The world is constantly in change and everything we do is preparing us to effect that change positively or negatively. In this environment, with the kind of people you have here, it's very hard for you to be negative. You're blessed. The bible says, "To those to whom much has been given, of them will much be required." Not suggested. Not just expected, it is required. You were put here for some purpose.
The world is a mess, but it's always been a mess. It's been a mess from the time of the Old Testament prophets and they were brought here to prophesy. Then the life of Jesus, he was saying that God loves you anyway. You ain't no good? You messed up, but you still my child. I'm going to use you to further my kingdom in some way.
Now, it might be as a teacher and God knows teachers are the people who make the world go. It may be as a business person and I've been married to two teachers for 60 years. 40 years with one and the Lord took her home and she turned me over to another teacher for 21 years. I've been married 61 years.
My mother was a teacher. Started teaching in New Orleans, Louisiana when she was a 16 year old. Went to a normal college just like this one was. She didn't know that she was bearing children that might be caught up in the world’s change. Neither did your parents, but I guarantee you, you are going to be an impact on the world in which you live and it's never going to be right.
God created the world out of chaos and brought us onto the same to continue to try to help His order out of chaos. That's what we're learning to do. To understand others. To understand the challenges. People ask me, where did I study to be an ambassador. In New Orleans, Louisiana, in my neighborhood was an Irish grocery store on one corner, an Italian bar on another and the Nazi party was on the third corner. I got to be a human rights leader at four years old and understand the differences. I couldn't think of a better place to be born.
I couldn't think of any better way to live this life for the last 85 years and so I'm just telling you that whatever your trouble is, that is the challenge that will define your life. We are made strong through our troubles and nothing is worse than a life of flower beds and ease. You'd be bored to death. Your troubles are your teacher. They will make you develop the resources you didn't know you had because they come from within the human spirit which ultimately comes from the spiritual creator of all of heaven and earth.
Now, somebody ought to be able to ask me a question to shut me up and put me talking about what you want to talk about. Come quick to the mic. They told me to keep it brief so you could have something to say and we might have a little dialogue. Nobody? Okay. Ladies first.
Speaker: Thank you sir. Firstly, thank you so much for all of the ground work that you've done in the civil rights foundation that you've laid for us and your service in pouring out foreign affairs and international affairs. I'd like to ask you, coming as a student whose field of study is politics and whose is in foreign affairs, how do you think or what are your thoughts on what students should do? What they should be reading or how they should be involved?
Young: Good. Let me say that I learn my foreign affairs not from books but from my fellow students. My mother didn't believe that anybody should stay on the campus for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Any of the foreign students who couldn't get back home, came to my house to dinner. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter. I got to know them as persons. The people that I got to know ended up teaching me about the countries that Jimmy Carter sent me to solve the problems. I couldn't find any answers to the problems in the books. I didn't need it because I was able through my friendships to relate to how we might solve the problems together. I think every time you get to sit next to a student that is different, from some place different, not only a different country but a different part of town, a different church. The thing is that university is the creation of ideas that celebrate the disorderly differences of the world and create a creative cultural order that makes life peaceful and prosperous for everybody else. That's my definition of education right now.
Speaker: My question has a bit of hers. What do you think the biggest barrier for peace is for us?
Young: The biggest barrier of peace is being afraid of people who are different. I had a class one time in seminary and we put it together. I was a Black Southerner, my roommate was a White Southerner, Southern Baptist from North Carolina. We selected an anthropologist from Black South Africa, a Japanese veteran of the Japanese air force and a Welshman from England and I guess there were about six of us and we had three teachers. An anthropologist, a philosopher, and the anthropologist was from Germany and he was a kind of old, left wing, cranky anthropologist but brilliant. The theologian was from England, no the philosopher religion was from England and the theologian was a Southerner, Methodist.
We met together for four hours every Friday and we had no agenda. Whatever was going on in the world or in our lives, we talked to each other about it. We got a global view of whatever problem was happening. We learned how to think about it from different perspectives. That, to me, is the best course I ever had. I've tried to continue that by creating those kind of groupings around problems to see how you can make life better by celebrating your differences. When I look here, I just see a wonderful, it almost looks like a garden of Eden. I see the future on this campus.
I've spent most of my life in cities, and cities have been wonderful places to create culture and opportunity and jobs, but they're too crowded and they're not spiritual enough. I think there's going to be a movement back to small towns to restore family values, to strengthen the religious faith of our children. That the new ideas and creative things are going to come from places like this and so I hope you take advantage of this opportunity because you are a world leader. Everybody on this campus is in the top two percentile of the people on the planet earth in terms of just charity if nothing else. God has given us this and a blessing, he expects a return.
Speaker: My question is, what is your most favorite book that you've ever written?
Young: The one that we have right out there is An Easy Burden. It's sort of the story of my life and the civil rights movement and the title comes from the biblical verse, "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." I think being born Black in the South in New Orleans, in the depression, I was born in 1932 and in that neighborhood with the Nazi party on one corner, the bars, Italians and the Irish and Colored and Creole and Cajun. All mixed up. You couldn't have been born in a better way than that.
One of the poorest parts of my neighborhood produced Louis Armstrong. Louis Armstrong wrote, "It's A Wonderful World". Can you imagine that? Coming out of what everybody would consider the worst part of town. Then again, Ray Charles is from Georgia and he's blind. He's the one that made us celebrate America the Beautiful. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
Speaker: Good morning. I was wondering, from your experience what part of your activism do you think influenced your policy making in the future and if you could go back, what do you wish your activism could have learned from your experience in policy?
Young: Well, Dr. King started our movement and he defined it to redeem the soul of America from the evils of racism, war and poverty. Now, I think we defined, understood and we've broken down all of the legal barriers racism. We've gone a long way towards ending war. I'm reading about Franklin Roosevelt and a time in the Second World War when the whole world was at war. Where 66 million people were killed. We're now down to a place where we're concerned about the hundreds, the thousands all over the world and we know about it every day. It seems like there's more war in the world because it's on television but it actually is one of the most peaceful times.
I've been, it's 152 countries, and I haven't been anywhere where people don't want to be like America. I haven't been anywhere where missionaries have not gone to tell people that they're children of God. Others have gone to teach them to drink Coca Cola. The irony of that is, Coca Cola is the largest employer on the African continent. Jesus is going to ask, "Did you feed the hungry?", and the Coca Cola bottler is going to say, "Yeah. I created jobs all over the world."
I see business as religious. I see politics as religious. When you have a secretary of state go on to meet with the Russians, I'm glad that he's going and they're going to sit down to talk. I used to play tennis with the Russian Ambassador and his wife and my wife and we used to play diplomatic doubles and we always split sets. They said the Russians scare Americans and the Americans scare the Russians. We said, "No, we both respect our wives and we can't win." We never talked politics, but when it was time to talk politics, we talked politics out of what's called a mutual respect.
That's what I see happening in the world today and the fact that we know so much about the confusion is not the fault of politics. The fact that we don't have jobs is not the fault of politics. Most of the troubles in the world come from this damn thing. We know everything going on. There is more technology in the palm of everybody's hand than used to exist when I went to college and I graduated from college 61 years ago. In fact, in June it'll be 62. All of the things that have made my life great, were the things I used to worry about in college. Take your troubles and make money with them. Everybody's got them. If you figure it out, okay.
Speaker: Good morning. I just want to say I'm also Louisiana mother and I'm a teacher. I drove in from Shreveport this morning to meet you. I'm very happy to be here and I teach high school and I've taught about you plenty of days from our students. My question is, out of all the monumental things you've done, down to the very steps you took and the many marches you participated in, what decision of yours if you could think of just one, which decision of yours were you most trepidatious about and what is it that made you conquer that fear and actually go ahead and do it?
Young: I think my college graduation. I had a degree and I knew I didn't know anything. My Daddy didn't define it for me, but he said, "Well, I've done the best I could. I got you through college and you've got no debts. Now, go find your Heavenly Father and let him take care of you the rest of the way." That was the best thing he could've done for me, is cut me loose to find my own way. That was the most frightening moment of my life was the few weeks after graduation. The Lord fixed it. When I got home, we had a little preacher and the parsonage wasn't ready at the church so he came to live at our house and he had just finished Yale Divinity School and he was coming out here to Brownwood, Texas, and he said, "Look Andy, I don't know about this though. Could you ride out there with me?"
He and I rode from New Orleans to Brownwood, Texas, and we were the only two black people in this conference, but it was the first time I met white people who loved God and feared God and wanted to make the world a better place. I said, "If all of these white folks are trying to make the world a better place," nobody ever suggested it to me. Everybody wanted to be a missionary, they wanted to go somewhere and I'd never heard that before. I met white people who said, "If my parents knew that I was here with you, a colored boy, they'd throw me out of the house." I said, "Well, why are you here?" She said, "Because I feel like Jesus wants me to be here." I said, "Yeah? I mean you're more worried about Jesus than you are your daddy and he's the Sheriff of this town?" I said, "I'm more worried about your daddy."
It is the fact that there was a kind of faithfulness and a kind of courage that has made us come this far and it lets me know that there's nothing that we can't solve if we keep faith and work together.
Speaker: The question I have as a boy who grew up in a single parent home … How do I get involved? Where do I go to do more than just know?
Young: The thing is that there's an old Methodist hymn, "Lead, Kindly Light" that was Gandhi's favorite hymn. It says, "Lead, kindly light amid encircling doom, lead Thou me on. The path is dark and I'm far from home. Guide Thou my feet. I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step is enough for me." That was sort of the thing that changed me from being afraid and nervous to being a leader. I didn't have to know what the future would hold. I knew who held the future. I knew that somehow God was able to make a way out of no way. That's the title of my first book because I learned that from my grandparents.
I don't know what's going to happen between the United States and Korea. I guarantee you, North Korea, I guarantee you it's going to work out. We're afraid of the world because we don't know it. I've been to Korea half a dozen times. We talk about North Korea's crazy, but Billy Graham's assistant tried to get me to go with him maybe 25 years ago. I saw him about a year ago and I said, "Are you still staying in touch with the North Koreans?" He said, "I've been there 11 times." If the Billy Graham organization has been there 11 times, they're not all crazy.
We might hear about the foolishness and the guns, and the bombs, but there's also Christians. You know, most of the Christians in North Vietnam, most of the people in North Vietnam grew up under Presbyterian missionaries. They don't recall it, but you don't get far from the Spirit once you know it.
Speaker: Good morning. My Dad lived in Greensboro, North Carolina when the Greensboro Four started the sit in in Woolworth's and he didn’t know about it even though it was in his own backyard and as an education student, we hear a lot about the null curriculum, things that aren't taught and I wanted to know what about the civil rights movement you would want elementary school children to know now that we don't have in history books.
Young: How do we relate the conflicts of race and creed and class that we call the civil rights movement that are in your classes? That you have people with different- You have rich people who are poor, people who are fat, people who are thin, people with freckles, people with red hair, people with curly hair, people with straight hair and I think part of the civil rights movement is to help us respect everybody just the way they are and celebrate their strengths and how we pull their strengths together to make the community a functional and creative experience for every human being.
Then how do we resolve the differences? I think if instead of just learning- It's like the civil war. We talk about the civil war is about slavery. It really wasn't. If you turn it green, it makes sense. That slavery was a four billion dollar asset to the South. The strongest asset in the North was the railroads. The railroads were only valued at 2.6 million dollars. If the North was going to control the South, they couldn't let the slave power become monetized, so they got to fighting over who was going to control the nation.
That's still what our election's all about. When I come down here, I realize and I think this was the Sam Rayburn lecture, I said, "You know, the country made sense when Sam Rayburn was the speaker of the house." When Lyndon Johnson was the majority leader because the Rayburn room behind the congress was just a little room with a desk and they called it Mr. Speaker, Mr. Sam's board of education. When you didn't want to- Didn't understand how to vote and what was going on, Mr. Sam would bring you back there and he would take a bottle of bourbon out of the desk and he'd put two glasses and he'd pour you some and you got educated.
There was no publicity, no fuss. That security and stability was only possible because there was a coalition mostly of Black and White voters, North and South voters that kind of got together and ran the country. That has been broken up. There's no organized coalition running this country and so the issues are defined by whatever gets on television and it's defined more by the fears than by the hopes. Instead of talking about the hopes of our society, unfortunately democrats try to make people afraid of Trump. They were, but they weren't afraid of Trump but they were afraid of the future and they figured that Trump was tough enough and strong enough and even though they knew he didn't know what he was doing, they cast their lot with him because we didn't give an alternative vision. I don't know how we come about that, but the alternative vision that pulls this country together is going to be defined by the nest election. The way our democracy works, everybody was just a narrow swing to a Trump. We've had two elections since President Trump has been elected.
There's one going on in Georgia today that might tip it and indicate- The liberal democrats voting, I mean running in a traditional white Republican district that- Everybody's running against him. You got 15 republicans attacking him so all that's doing is what we did with Trump. You're helping rally his base. The democrat might win and that's going to send the tide one way. I'm saying that the action in every vote sort of swings the pendulum of your life and mine a little bit one way or another. What you do and what you think or what you don't do and what you think determines our future and that's why I don't have to know what the future holds. I know who holds the future. You know the same God that holds the future and if we could somehow get together, everything's going to be all right.
We started the session with a song, "O Freedom". Could you join me in trying to sing another freedom song? Just one verse. I got a feeling, everything's going to be all right. Oh I got a feeling everything going to be all right. Oh I got a feeling everything's going to be all right. Be all right. Be all right. Be all right. Amen.
Nelson: Ambassador, I can't let you get away without answering one question. Probably no one knew, as a colleague and aide, Martin Luther King, better than you did. Tell us one thing that we never hear about who he was.
Young: Well, Martin Luther King sort of defined how you become free. He said, "To really be free, you've got to overcome the love of wealth so nobody can sell you out and the fear of death so nobody can scare you out." It doesn't mean you don't like money, but it means you don't have to be bought and sold. You know you have to respect life, but you don't have to be afraid to die. If you can overcome the love of wealth and the fear of death, then you can be free and help everybody else to be free. Thank you.