Family and friends of Andrew Young, renowned civil rights leader, congressman, ambassador, and mayor, gathered with him in Washington, D.C. last Saturday night for the unveiling of his portrait at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. It was a much-deserved honor for a man whose legacy is one of extraordinary national and international impact.
His illustrious career, beginning with his ordination as a Congregational minister in 1955, has been dedicated to civil rights and social justice:
• He served as a top aide to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., rising to become Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and he was with Dr. King when he was assassinated.
• He became in 1972 the first African-American elected to the U.S. Congress from the Deep South since Reconstruction, and his Congressional District (Atlanta's 5th) was only 33 percent Black.
• He was the first African-American to be appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, serving there as a Cabinet Member under President Jimmy Carter. While at the U.N., he played a leading role in the successful effort to bring independence to Zimbabwe, he initiated the negotiations that would ultimately lead to the independence of Namibia, and he helped enact the mandatory U.N. arms embargo against apartheid South Africa, which further isolated that nation and helped bring an end to apartheid.
• He was elected Mayor of the City of Atlanta in 1981, and re-elected in 1985 with 80% of the vote. While in office, he brought $70 billion in new private investment to the city, established Atlanta as a truly international city and the gateway to the Southeast, and set the stage for Atlanta's hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympics.
• He continues his involvement in civic activities as Chairman of the Andrew Young Foundation in Atlanta.
At a public event held at the National Portrait Gallery, prior to the unveiling, Jack H. Watson, Jr., White House Chief of Staff under President Carter, joined Ambassador Young for a fascinating, insightful, and always engaging 90-minute discussion of Young's life and career. In the course of it, Andrew Young noted that, when he first ran for Congress in 1970, Jack Watson had been planning to run as well. Then-Congressman Allard Lowenstein of New York had called Watson to ask him to withdraw. Watson had agreed and thrown his support to Young. Jack Watson was now the person most responsible for the creation of the portrait of Andrew Young, by artist Ross R. Rossin, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.
At the official unveiling ceremony that evening, hundreds of invited guests joined Ambassador Young. Among them were his wife and children and their families and such renowned Americans as Martin Luther King, III, Vernon Jordan, Hank Aaron, Smithsonian chief executive G. Wayne Clough, New York Times columnist David Brooks, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Ambassador Donald McHenry (who had succeeded Young as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.), the Clinton Administration's Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, and former New Orleans Mayor and Carter Administration H.U.D. Secretary "Moon" Landrieu, among many others.
In addressing the crowd, Andrew Young thanked everyone there for "enabling me to hang in this Gallery." Referencing his days in the Civil Rights Movement, he added, "When I think of all of the other places where I could have been hung, I thank God that I'm hanging here."
The author, Chief Operating Officer of Goodman Media International (www.goodmanmedia.com), the New York-based public relations firm, worked for Andrew Young on Capitol Hill, at the United Nations, and in City Hall in Atlanta.