Young Reflects On National Portrait Gallery

By Noelle A. Jones ( And Special Reports)
WASHINGTON —  After a lifetime devoted to civil rights, politics, humanitarianism, freedom, and justice, and making a huge impact in Washington, D.C., and the world, Ambassador Andrew Young’s face made a permanent home in the Smithsonian National Portrait gallery April 30.

“The national portrait gallery, as it was set up by Congress, was intended to recognize Americans who have made a difference in the life of our nation and in the lives of other Americans. … Pieces are presented through paintings, sculptures, photographs, and new media that really say something about each of the individuals inducted,” said National Portrait Gallery Director Martin Sullivan.

When Young saw his portrait for the first time, he never anticipated that the rest of the world would see it as well. This opportunity was birthed from relationships past and present. The portrait was purchased and donated to the gallery by Young’s longtime friend, Jack Watson Jr.

“I was one of those who came into the movement as an adult, I already had three children when I started with SCLC, and it was people like Amelia Boynton who had been doing voter registration is Selma since 1932, the year I was born. She is now 99 years old and she is still organizing the get out and vote parade,” said Ambassador Young. “I think about the masses of people I know that really suffered, whose pictures will never get up, people in Mississippi, and in Alabama that were very influential to me  … men like James Orange. So my picture is representative of more than me as an individual, it represents a whole movement.”

“When I saw the painting done by Ross Rossin, it was amazing. Ross knew Jack Watson who was the chief of staff for the Carter administration and now a chairman for the portrait gallery,” said Young. “I’ve known Jack since 1970; he was planning to run for Congress, and I was running as well. That was 40 years ago; we’ve been good friends ever since.”

A graduate of Howard University, Young was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and was with King when he was assassinated in Memphis. He served as the first Black congressman from the South elected since Reconstruction, the first Black U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and served two terms as mayor of Atlanta.

Young is currently a giant in humanitarian work, serving as co-chairman of GoodWorks International, where he has brought to life his long-held mission of facilitating economic development in the Caribbean and Africa. He is also the producer of several Emmy Award-winning documentaries on stories from the Civil Rights Movement and developing African nations through his series “Andrew Young Presents.”

Martin said, “It’s a perfect fit. The theme of the exhibit is ‘Struggle for Justice’ highlighting those people in American history who have led the efforts for broader participation — inclusion in the rights that are supposedly guaranteed to Americans. The Civil Rights Movement is one of the main stories that’s conveyed there.”

He added, “We are pleased to have in that exhibit portraits of Dr. King and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the 20th century. Also, there are portraits of abolitionists and activists like Sojourner Truth and Fredrick Douglass. Andrew Young’s life story fits perfectly.”

Over the weekend, the Museum held two public events in concurrence with the portrait’s installation: a public talk and book signing with Young, and a book signing and author talk with Paula Young Shelton for her book “Child of the Civil Rights Movement.” The induction of this painting represents some of the darkest times in American history as well as some of the most triumphant. It represents the work of many — African American trailblazers past and present.

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