History is not just a series of events; it is the people who create those events. It is the impact of the stories—told and untold—of the many trailblazers and unsung heroes whose tireless sacrifices and relentless dedication have resulted in justice, equality, opportunity, and freedom for all.
Looking back, we have seen that the defining moments in American history resulted from the strategic, dedicated, and tremendous hard work of risk-takers, visionaries, and leaders. Leaders like Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, who refused to accept an unjust status quo. Civil rights pioneers like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverends Ralph Abernathy and Joseph Lowery, Congressman John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and many of today’s program participants and guests. And, many of you in this auditorium, as well as countless others, who, in the face of bigotry and violence, called upon our nation to live up to its fundamental ideals of liberty and equality.
History is Ambassador Andrew Jackson Young, Jr., a living legend and icon at the forefront of a watershed moment for America, one with enormous ramifications for our country and the world – the Civil Rights Movement and ultimate passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ambassador Young met the challenges of segregation and discrimination with truly remarkable sacrifices, helping to transform America into a better, stronger, and fairer nation.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, during the depths of the Great Depression and Jim Crow segregation, Ambassador Young accepted the responsibility of service at a young age. In 1960, after receiving his undergraduate degree right here at Howard University and his divinity degree from Hartford Theological Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut, he joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Atlanta-based civil rights organization led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was soon named the Director of SCLC’s Citizenship School Program, where he, like Dr. King, employed Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of non-violent resistance as an organizing strategy and tactic for social change.
Later, after becoming the Executive Director of the SCLC, Ambassador Young quickly became one of Dr. King’s most trusted advisors and confidants. He was one of the principal strategists and negotiators during the Civil Rights campaigns in Birmingham, Selma, and Atlanta—to name just a few. It was those campaigns, along with other critical events, that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Even after being beaten and jailed for his participation in civil rights demonstrations, and after witnessing the devastating assassination of Dr. King in 1968, the Ambassador’s leadership and devotion to the cause of public service, social justice, and human rights never wavered.
In 1972, he became the first African American from the Deep South since Reconstruction to be elected to the U.S. Congress. In 1977, he became the first African American to serve as Ambassador to the United Nations. And in 1981, he was elected Mayor of the great city of Atlanta, where he served for two terms.
In Atlanta, where he resides today, Ambassador Young has continued his service to the civil rights cause as a college professor at Georgia State University, where the policy school is named in his honor; he has established the Andrew Young Foundation; and he has remained active in local, national, and global affairs.
In recognition of his vast contributions, Ambassador Young was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest civilian award of the United States—and has received honorary degrees from more than 100 colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad.
And just when you might have thought his inventory of accomplishments could not extend further, the Ambassador has earned the titles of author, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, devoted husband to his wife, Carolyn, and proud father and grandfather.
Ambassador Young, on behalf of a grateful nation and everyone here today, I want to thank you for your remarkable service not only to our country, but to the world.
Your work, along with the historic efforts of others, laid the groundwork for what has become a significant part of the Justice Department’s mission—to expand opportunity for all people, to safeguard the fundamental infrastructure of our democracy, and to protect the most vulnerable among us. Our commitment to advancing this work has never been stronger. All of us, together, must continue moving our nation forward toward a more perfect union—one that reflects the values and principles enshrined in our nation’s founding documents. Your participation here this morning serves as an inspiration for this important work. Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in welcoming an ambassador for change; an ambassador for equality; and an ambassador for justice – Ambassador Andrew Young