Young shares civil rights experience

By Greg Gelpi

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young retold stories of the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King and answered questions at Clayton College & State University Tuesday.

Clayton State student Nicole Connell said the discussion bridged the gap between generations and put the civil rights movement in perspective.

"We didn't know what it was like to live life like that," Connell said. "The youth, me included, aren't given a chance to relate to our elders."

Sitting near the Clayton State lake and hearing Young speak gave her that chance, she said.

"I just figure that I hadn't laid out on a beautiful piece of grass with a bunch of young people for 60 years," Young said laughing.

He detailed his experiences with explosive violence in the heart of the civil rights movement, including the times leading up to King's assassination.

"Anytime blacks would build a nice home in Birmingham (Ala.), they would just go around and blow it up," Young said of the city in 1963.

When asked about whether enough is being taught in schools about civil rights, he said no.

"I don't feel enough is being taught about anything," Young said. "It's not what's being taught. It's what's being learned."

Young said people learn when they have the desire to learn, rather than when they are studying to pass a test.

He said it's important to "learn to learn," so that when children grow older they have a foundation to build on and have a commitment to learning.

Practicing civil disobedience, Young, King and other civil rights activities notified law enforcement and government officials of their meetings and protests, he said.

"We didn't have secret meetings," Young said. "We even let the (Ku Klux) Klan get in on our meetings. We wanted the police and the courts to know what we were doing and why we were doing it. The unknown is a greater threat than what we were trying to do."

He compared being watched by the FBI for his civil rights activities with the investigations of the Patriot Act.

"The truth of it is (the act) opens everyone up to scrutiny," Young said. "The dangers of the Patriot Act are that it focuses on those who are openly critical of society."

He said those who are secretly critical are more of a danger.

Young also offered his thoughts on the war in Iraq.

"You cannot overcome violence with violence," he said. "My criticism has been that it has been a one-dimensional military approach."

Young said that he spoke with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan about six months prior to the war about the dangers of Saddam Hussein. Something had to be done, but a multi-national approach should have been taken, using humanitarian aid and education.

Young has served as an ordained minister, mayor of Atlanta, three-term Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives and a member of President Jimmy Carter's cabinet.