Civil Rights Leader Andrew Young Captivates at UT

Ever wonder what Martin Luther King, Jr. was really like behind closed doors? Former congressman, mayor of Atlanta, and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young would be the right man to ask, and he provided answers during a lecture at the LBJ Library last Thursday evening.

Young, guest speaker at the second annual Tom Johnson Lecture, addressed a packed house in the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium. According to Young, King managed to inject levity into his otherwise serious and often dangerous life. “The greatest misconception about Martin is that he was a serious man,” Young said, reminiscing on his close friendship with King. “When he wasn’t behind the podium, he was less ‘I have a dream!’ and a little more Richard Pryor.”

The conversation, mediated by LBJ Library Director Mark Updegrove, covered more than 50 years’ worth of topics. Young divulged a wealth of personal memories, spanning from his early years with the civil rights movement, to Vietnam, to his ambassadorship under President Jimmy Carter. He commended President Lyndon B. Johnson’s role in achieving equal rights for African-Americans, and spoke frankly about his handling of the Vietnam War. “Martin and I wanted the war to end, but President Johnson confided to us that he was under tremendous pressure to escalate it,” Young admitted. “He didn’t know how else to get out of it.”

The former ambassador also offered his perspective on various contemporary issues. He stressed awareness of human trafficking, emphasized the importance of a world economy, and acknowledged the lack of bipartisanship in modern American politics. “Congress used to be fun!” he laughed. “And you learned a lot. But people don’t talk to each other anymore.”

Young concluded by urging modern politicians to focus on tangible issues like unemployment and job creation, jokingly adding “Who gives a damn about a debt ceiling?” to riotous applause.

For more photos and video of the lecture, click here.

LBJ Library photo courtesy of Lauren Gelson.


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