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Talking with Andrew Young, speaker for 31st annual MLK lecture

Andrew Young learned the art of activism and nonviolent protests at the feet of Martin Luther King Jr.

At the height of the civil rights movement, Young was King’s aide and close personal friend.

In the years following King’s assassination, Young served in U.S. Congress and has since also been a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta.

Young will deliver tonight’s 31st annual Martin Luther King Jr.
Memorial Lecture, serving as a kickoff to a week of events celebrating King’s life and legacy.

More than 40 years after the assassination of his mentor and friend, Young reflected on King’s legacy and the endurance of his message of racial harmony and nonviolence.


We never approached race relations as black versus white. (King) always said, ‘Nobody has anything to say about how they’re born.’ You’re born with certain characteristics of race, creed, class and color, but those don’t have to define you.

You have to define yourself in dialogue, debate and communication with others and that’s best accomplished when it’s rational and loving and that means nonviolence.


It’s possible but I’m not even sure if it’s advisable.

Dr. King used to say, ‘Every American is a hyphenated American.’ We are Irish–American, Italian, African … but that hyphenation is part of the richness of our country, and we should remember our cultures of our forbears.


I think just of sitting around at night arguing. He loved to debate, and if you took one side, he’d take another, and we’d just argue about almost anything and everything.

The only time he got upset with me was when I didn’t feel like arguing, and I’d agree with him, and he’d say, ‘Now, you don’t believe that.’ He liked to create a dialogue.


An idea Dr. King always talked about was ‘hew out of a mountain of despair a stone of hope.’ For him, the mountain of despair was not personal, it was racism, economic injustice, and it was war.

But in spite of all of that in and around his life, he never gave up hope and so (the monument) says that this is a testimony to the strength of his spirit.


I just had my eighth grandchild and we named him Andrew Jackson Young IV. I started thinking, what does that mean? What does that stand for?

What I’m saying to my son and grandson is … you have a legacy of wisdom and trust and that legacy, it doesn’t matter what color you are, those are values that are very, very important in society and more important as society changes.


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It’s advice my father gave me … Don’t get mad, get smart. You have to think your way through the problems of life and your mind is the most powerful weapon you have, and the more you use your mind the more you can resolve conflicts.


Right after my graduation, I was driving home and the whole South was segregated so we were staying near King’s Mountain, N.C. I got up and went for a run to the top of that mountain. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation but standing up there, all of a sudden it was almost like a religious experience. I realized that God let me get this education and these opportunities for a purpose and I said if I was faithful and did the best I could that I would find my purpose. If I had come down from that mountain and told my mother that I was going to be a congressman she would have said, ‘Son, you’re sick.’

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