Q&A with Andrew Young

The civil rights leader discusses Selma, politics, and how to make the world a better place.

Rollins Winter Park Institute guest speaker Andrew Young addresses an audience in Knowles Memorial Chapel. (Photo by Scott Cook) Rollins Winter Park Institute guest speaker Andrew Young addresses an audience in Knowles Memorial Chapel. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Standing ovations are usually reserved for the end of a rousing performance. But that is not always the case, as evidenced January 20 in Rollins’ Knowles Memorial Chapel when Andrew Young appeared on stage. The crowd rose to its feet and applause rang out in the sanctuary as the civil-rights leader got comfortable in his chair and began to lay out the sort of history lesson that can be told only by one who was there, one who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the march toward racial equality.

“A Continuing Legacy” proved a fitting title for Young’s presentation, the third in the 2014-15 Rollins Winter Park Institute’s Ideas in Residence lineup, coming as it did on the heels of the day set aside to honor King’s legacy. In the stories he tells and in the work his foundation is doing to find solutions for hunger and disease, Young continues King’s legacy of trying to make the world a more just place for all, and he remains forever vigilant in his search to find, as the title of his spiritual memoir suggests, A Way Out of No Way.

Before he took to the stage Tuesday evening, and before the audience joined him in singing “I’ve Got a Feeling (Everything’s Gonna Be Alright),” Young shared his take on Selma, the recently released film that chronicles the events leading up to the triumphant march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

Dixie Tate: What did you think of Selma?

Andrew Young: I loved it. It was really too moving for me because I was not prepared for that first scene with the little girls, and so as soon as I sat down with my popcorn and slush, I saw the little girls coming down the stairs and then all of a sudden, I wasn’t even comfortable in my chair before the explosion. And it just took me back 50 years. And I think I started tearing up then, and I don’t think I ever stopped.

DT: Did you find it to be an accurate portrayal of the time?

AY: I found it to be a truly accurate portrayal. … Though I was a little disappointed in the portrayal of Lyndon Johnson. … There was a difference of opinion (between King and Johnson). But it was not a difference of opinion on voting rights. It was on the timing. … From 1960 to 1965, Dr. King felt like any day could be his last, and he lived under constant threat of death, so he was under a spiritual agenda. President Johnson had a political agenda, and that’s the way it should be.

DT: What do you hope people will take from the movie?

AY: What I see in that and why I like the film so much is that it showed the differences in America. … The message that I want people to get from Selma is that if everybody does his or her best in America, in spite of the differences, there’s almost no problem we can’t solve. And I think that that’s what Selma demonstrates.

DT: It’s been 50 years. What do you think has changed?

AY: Everything has changed. And nothing has changed. The everything is that the politics have changed, but when you change the politics without changing the economics, pretty soon the economics overrules the politics, and that’s what has happened. While we made a political transformation that led to elected officials all across the South, we didn’t deal with the question of poverty.

DT: What did you think of Andre Holland’s portrayal of you in the movie?

AY: I thought he made me look very good, made me sound real intelligent.

DT: What would you say to the young people of today who want to change the world?

AY: My challenge to these students is to accept the fact that you are living in the midst of cataclysmic change. But never has the world had so much money, so much technology, and so much insight into the nature of the problem.

DT: Of all your roles—ordained minister, civil rights leader, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., congressman, mayor of Atlanta—which did you most enjoy?

AY: Mayor of Atlanta. Because I was the boss.

Rollins students who are learning about the nation's civil rights movement are joined by Young in a round-table discussion. (Photo by Scott Cook) Rollins students who are learning about the nation's civil rights movement are joined by Young in a round-table discussion. (Photo by Scott Cook)

More words of wisdom from Young:

“The world changed for us in Selma. … It was one time when everybody in America seemed to get it right. A whole lot of bad things came together to make some good things.”

“If we do what we can do to make things right, there’s no problem we can’t solve in the United States of America.”

“If you’re going to be free, overcome the love of wealth—so nobody can buy you off—and the fear of death—so nobody can scare you off.”

“Quit being scared and being greedy, and the future is ours to claim.”

“We must be prepared to survive in really turbulent times.”

“The things that threaten us most are pride, fear, and greed.”

“There can’t be peace and prosperity when you have millions of people unemployed.”

“It takes calm, thoughtful analysis of any problem to solve it.”

“Football coaches seem to have more sense of diplomacy than presidents and secretaries of state. No football coach would ever insult his adversary. … They might quietly hate each other, but they have better sense than to provoke anger and animosity from people with whom they have to compete.”

On cell phones and the Internet: “With this kind of communication and with this kind of interaction throughout the planet, we’re going to have to learn to respect one another. …. You ought to have enough common sense and decency to show respect to other people.”

“Everything that God made has a purpose. And if everything else has a purpose, God must have a purpose for me. There’s something on this Earth that only I can do.”

“My life hasn’t been all that easy, but it has been fun.”