By M. Alexis Scott (www.atlantadailyworld.com)
The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History marked the opening of its Andrew J. Young Papers collection on March 6 with a special conversation between Young and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, someone he has mentored since Reed was a19-year-old student at Howard University.
John F. Szabo, director of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, said Young’s contribution of his papers has had “a positive impact on the system’s ability to attract others.” He also announced that the AARL will get a $25 million expansion, including new gallery and archival space.
Francine L. Henderson, AARL administrator, said she was thrilled to have the papers, which show Young’s commitment to people by making them accessible in this way.
Kerrie Cotton Williams, AARL archivist, said a $900,000 grant in 2008 from the Council on Library and Information Resources, made it possible to preserve and digitize the papers of Young, the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP, SCLC, the Voter Education Project, and to chronicle key moments in the Civil Rights Movement. The grant was split among three entities: Emory University, Atlanta University Center Woodruff Library and the Amistad Research Center in New Orleans.
During the conversation, Reed recalled that he was 10 years old the first time he met Young at a church he attended. But it was at Howard University in Washington D.C., where he served as a student trustee alongside Young, that they got to know each other.
“I was thinking of going to New York,” Reed said. “We sat together for a year as members of the Howard Board of Trustees.” It was during that time that Reed said Young told him he needed to come back to Atlanta where the city would need him to be mayor someday.
Reed recalled seeing Young weep while viewing Martin Luther King Jr.’s papers at Sotheby’s in New York in 2006 before Young, in conjunction with former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, got private investors to buy them for $32 million to be housed here at King’s alma mater, Morehouse College. Reed asked Young what moved him to tears.
“The thing that moved me so much was how much I didn’t know,” Young said about viewing King’s papers. “I didn’t know how much he worked on his sermons. He made outlines, card files that listed reference books, dates and places where he preached. I don’t know where he found the time to do it.”
Reed asked Young how he dealt with the stress and controversy of the Civil Rights Movement. Young said “none of us knew how important what we were doing might be. We knew people respected what we were doing…. But we were a bunch of young men having fun doing the right thing.”
Young said they were not afraid, and as he read the notes and messages, including those in his own handwriting among the King papers, he didn’t really remember many of them. “I was humbled to have a little something to do with those papers,” he said.
As for his own papers, Young said he had all these things in his basement where they might get wet or the rats might get at them. “Y’all come get these papers,” he said he told the library officials. “If you can find something that might be of interest to somebody, then they need to be preserved and protected.”
He said AARL Administrator Henderson said “y’all got some juicy stuff in here.” Young added, “There may be a lot of things somebody else might be ashamed of for me, but I have no shame and no guilt. It’s important for young people to realize what and how we were doing things. You never know what might inspire the next generation.”
Cheryl Oestreicher, Young Papers archivist, said Young’s memorabilia was in 686 boxes and included all aspects of his private and public life from his childhood up until now. She said it was both “daunting and thrilling” to go through each box and learn about his life. The boxes included correspondence, speeches, books, scrapbooks, awards, audio-visual material, sermons from Hartford Seminary where he studied after graduating from Howard University, movie scripts, campaign material, radio spots for Congress, items from his eight years as mayor of Atlanta and his campaign for Georgia governor in 1990.
“All these collections tell stories,” Oestreicher said. They are stories more than about Andrew Young. They are about Atlanta, Georgia, the nation, international community, the Civil Rights Movement, history, government, politics, minority business, sports the arts. . . . And they contain new stories waiting to be told.
“The life he’s led and the willingness to share it with others is a gift,” she said. “His life and legacy will be preserved for years to come.”
During their conversation, which was moderated by WAGA-TV Anchor Amanda Davis, Reed also asked Young how he prevented his heart from hardening from his detractors. “How did you manage the difficulty and the controversy?” Reed asked. “Counsel me,” he added with a smile.
Young said he “learned not to worry. . . .You really have to trust in God. . . . If it’s supposed to be, it’s supposed to be.
“The whole pattern of the Civil Rights Movement was to do the best you could, knowing that you were going to fail,” Young said. Referring to the tough campaign in Birmingham, Young said after three months, both White and Black leaders wanted them to give up. Young said King retreated to a room, got into bed with the pillow over his head talking with his wife Coretta. He then emerged with his overalls on and said he was sorry, you may be right , but we have to go on.
When King was arrested and jailed during the Birmingham campaign, he responded to a newspaper advertisement by white preachers condemning him by writing what is now famously known as the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” Young said Quakers made 100,000 copies and circulated it around the world. “That changed everything,” and the Civil Rights Act was passed followed by the Voting Rights Act followed by the dismantling of segregation throughout the South.
Young praised Reed for his work as Atlanta’s 59th mayor, noting that he has been able to get federal dollars to support several Atlanta projects, and is involved in helping the state secure federal funding for the ports in Savannah — $70 million, Reed interjected. He noted Reed’s relationship with President Barack Obama, which predates Obama’s election as president, is helping the entire state.
“Atlanta mayors have always had enough vision for Georgia, even when it has not been the other way around,” Young said.