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What It Takes - Andrew Young

What It Takes - Andrew Young
What It Takes - Andrew Young
What It Takes - Andrew Young
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00:00:02 OPRAH WINFREY: "Hattie Mae, this child is gifted," and I heard that enough that I started to believe it.

00:00:08 ROGER BANNISTER: If you have the opportunity, not a perfect opportunity, and you don't take it, you may never have another chance.

00:00:14 LAURYN HILL: It all was so clear. It was just, like, the picture started to form itself.

00:00:19 DESMOND TUTU: There was no way in which a lie could prevail over the truth, darkness over light, death over life.

00:00:27 CAROL BURNETT (quoting CARRIE HAMILTON): “Every day I wake up and decide, today I'm going to love my life. Decide.”

00:00:34 JOHNNY CASH: My advice is, if they're going to break your leg once when you go in that place, stay out of there.

00:00:40 JAMES MICHENER: And then along come these differential experiences that you don't look for, you don't plan for, but boy, you’d better not miss them.

00:00:52 ALICE WINKLER: This is What It Takes, a podcast about passion, vision, and perseverance from the Academy of Achievement. I’m Alice Winkler. I pulled an interview today from the Academy’s vault that has so many memorable stories it’s hard to know where to start, but honestly, I think this time it makes sense to begin in the middle. It’s 1957, and Andrew Young, recently out of seminary, is pastor at a little country church in South Georgia.

00:01:24 He’s involved at a very local level in the fight for civil rights. One day he gets an invitation from the Alpha Phi Alphas, a prominent African American fraternity. They want him to speak at Talladega College in Alabama. Also invited is a man he’s never met before, Martin Luther King Jr.

00:01:46 ANDREW YOUNG: And I always said they invited him and they didn't think he would come, so they invited me as a backup, and it turned out we both showed up.

00:01:53 ALICE WINKLER: King had risen to prominence two years earlier as leader of the Montgomery bus boycott, and Andrew Young knew all about him.

00:02:01 ANDREW YOUNG: And that's when we met, in 1957, and my wife was with me, and he started talking to her and realized that she and Coretta had known each other in high school. So we stopped off and had dinner with them, and I knew who he was, and I kept trying to talk civil rights or theology or trying to, you know — I don't know what I was trying to do, but he wouldn't talk about anything but his baby.

00:02:32 And he was crazy about this little girl, and of course, I had a three-month-old daughter, too. So we met as fathers who married women from the same little country town.

00:02:45 ALICE WINKLER: Andrew Young became a member of Martin Luther King Jr.’s inner circle. He was chief strategist and negotiator. If you glance through photos of the Civil Rights Movement, you will find Young at King’s side in Birmingham, in Selma, in Atlanta, in St. Augustine, and in the White House. He was there again at his side when King was assassinated on a motel balcony in Memphis.

00:03:12 A number of years later, Young would become one of the first African Americans elected to Congress from the Deep South since Reconstruction, and ambassador to the UN under Jimmy Carter, and the mayor of Atlanta, twice. But his path to the center of the Civil Rights Movement, and to a remarkable life of public service more generally, is the subject of the stories in this interview. It was recorded by the Academy of Achievement in 2013.

00:03:50 Andrew Young, like Martin Luther King Jr., was a minister, and by the time he met King on that day he just described, in 1957, the two men were pretty much in lockstep on the issue of nonviolence, but it wasn’t always the case for Young. Two years earlier, he had been organizing a local voter registration drive, and he remembers the turning point for him.

00:04:14 ANDREW YOUNG: We had been shopping in Albany, Georgia, and we were driving back, Jean and me, with a three-month-old baby in a bassinet in the back seat of this little Nash Rambler, and we go around the curve in this little town called Doerun, Georgia, and I was going pretty fast, and there were people all over the streets, you know.

00:04:36 And I slowed down quickly, and there must have been a hundred people in sheets with their pointed hats. They didn't have their face masks on, but I turned the corner, and I was in the middle of a Klan rally. And I realized that they were coming to Thomasville because I had put up signs about a voter registration drive, and I was prepared for it, you know. And so I said to Jean, I said, "Look — " She's a country girl.

00:05:07 One of the things we used to do on dates is go out in the backyard and shoot tin cans.

00:05:12 So she was a good shot. I said, "Look, I'm going to try to reason with these people if they come to visit us, and I want you to sit in the window and just point our rifle at the guy I'm talking to." And, see, I'd been to theology school, and I was — I grew up in the Second World War, where Reinhold Niebuhr and others criticized the church for being pacifist.

00:05:37 So I said, "You point the gun at him, and then I can reason with him as a brother, because if he takes me out, you take him out," and she said, "I'm not going to do that." I said, "What do you mean? What's — what are you going to do?" She said, "I'm not going to point a gun at a human being." I said, "That's not a human being. That's the Ku Klux Klan."

00:05:55 She said, "Look, don't you forget it. Under that sheet is the heart of a child of God." And my idea was, "Damn, woman."

00:06:10 You know, what kind of woman did I marry? And she said, "No. We're not going to point guns at — we're not — " she said, "If you don't believe in what you preach, we need to quit now."

00:06:23 ALICE WINKLER: Andrew Young took in her words and took a different tact. He got out of the way of the Klan, got home, and found a local business leader willing to accompany him to visit the mayor, who also happened to run the town’s hardware store. The mayor then called the head of the two biggest employers in town, and together they made an agreement that the Klan could convene on the courthouse steps but would not enter the black community or disrupt their registration drive.

00:06:54 ANDREW YOUNG: That was my first test of nonviolence. What it taught me was that the best way to avoid violence is to head it off, not wait for a confrontation where violence is almost inevitable, but that you've got to be more aggressive pursuing what Gandhi called organized, aggressive, disciplined goodwill.

00:07:22 ALICE WINKLER: And what gave Andrew Young the idea that he could possibly broker a deal with the Klan? Well, as I said earlier, I’ve started his story in the middle, but now I’ll go back to Andrew Young’s beginnings because, as he tells it, he started learning his ambassadorial skills at his father’s knee.

00:07:41 ANDREW YOUNG: Because I grew up in New Orleans and there was an Irish grocery store on one corner, an Italian bar on another corner, and the Nazi Party headquarters was on the third corner. My aunt lived right behind the Nazi Party, and the — there was no air conditioning, so the windows were open, and my father had to explain to me why these people were “heiling” Hitler.

00:08:07 And he did a very interesting thing. He took me to the movies to see the 1936 Olympics and Jesse Owens, and when Jesse Owens won his first race, Hitler got up and walked out. He said, "You see, racism is a sickness," my father said. And he said, "Jesse didn't get mad. He just went on and won three more gold medals." And he said, "The thing you need to remember is that you don't get mad with sick people. You help them, and you can't help them unless you try to understand them."

00:08:39 So, even as a four- or five-year-old, he was trying to make me responsible for understanding racism. He didn't expect it to change, but he wanted me to be able to survive and thrive, and he used to say all the time, "You're in a struggle, but if you get in a fight and lose your temper, you lose the fight, so don't get mad, get smart."

00:09:06 ALICE WINKLER: Young’s dad did also get him boxing lessons, however, on the theory that if you know how to fight, you don’t have to fight. Young says everything his father taught him helped him to survive in his mixed neighborhood.

00:09:20 ANDREW YOUNG: And then, because it was segregated, I had to go out of that neighborhood to another neighborhood, where I was the little rich kid whose parents had been to college. And so I had to deal with poverty and how to accept privilege as a responsibility and not as a burden.

00:09:40 ALICE WINKLER: Andrew Young’s father had also grown up privileged. His father — in other words, Andrew Young’s grandfather — had been a very successful businessman in Franklin, Louisiana.

00:09:51 ANDREW YOUNG: He had four million dollars in a bank account, about 1916. He managed the money for burial societies, Masonic organizations, and because he was trustworthy, almost everybody in Louisiana — every organization in Louisiana — banked in Franklin, Louisiana.

00:10:14 ALICE WINKLER: Andrew Young’s grandmother, meanwhile, taught him to appreciate that he’d been dealt a pretty good hand.

00:10:20 ANDREW YOUNG: She'd always say, you know, "To them to whom much has been given, of them will much be required," and so it was just expected that God does not waste blessings and, “If you got all these blessings, you better do something with them, boy.” But she also gave me a faith in life that made me not fear death. When she lost her sight, she was about 80, and she died at about 87, 88.

00:10:54 And so for those — that was between, like, 6 and 14. My job every day was to read the newspaper and the Bible, and I say that's where I got my education.

00:11:05 ALICE WINKLER: Young’s mother was the only child in her family who got to go to college, because her mother and siblings sacrificed to get her there. She became a teacher. Young’s father was a dentist.

00:11:17 ANDREW YOUNG: Louis Armstrong was one of his patients, and a lot of the old blues singers and a lot of the prizefighters in New Orleans. I met all kinds of people. He was active in the NAACP, so I met people like Paul Robeson and Walter White. I don't remember meeting W.E.B. Du Bois, but Langston Hughes, Marian Anderson, all of the great black people of the time came through New Orleans.

00:11:46 ALICE WINKLER: For many years, though, his father traveled outside of New Orleans to take care of patients in rural communities, and he often took his son along.

00:11:56 ANDREW YOUNG: During the Depression, all the doctors and dentists were broke, and Huey Long, the governor of Louisiana, came up with the idea of — it was really one of the first public health projects. And so he bought trailers that were mobile dental offices, and my father's job for most of my young life was to drive from parish to parish in Louisiana, and he'd plug in at the parish courthouse.

00:12:27 And the parish nurse would line up all of the black children, and in the summertime we'd travel with him, and because we couldn't stay in hotels, we always stayed in people's homes.

00:12:44 ALICE WINKLER: They couldn’t stay in hotels, of course, because of segregation. Barbara Harrison, the Washington journalist who conducted this interview, asked Young whether he noticed, as a kid, that he and his dad were treated worse when they got out in the country, away from the unusually diverse city of New Orleans. The answer? Yeah.

00:13:04 ANDREW YOUNG: But, you know, I really never paid any attention to it because see, for me, since four years old, racism was a sickness. And I knew how to steer clear of sick people, and I could sense when people were uncomfortable, and I went out of my way to make them comfortable, and that wasn't —

00:13:22 You know, when I got in the Civil Rights Movement, I was so comfortable and gracious with white people that some of the guys called me an Uncle Tom.

00:13:34 And Dr. King always sent me to do the negotiations. I never got upset. I never argued back. My father kind of had me as a junior analyst by the time I was six.

00:13:51 But you can read people. You can see when they're threatened. I tell the story about, you know, nobody liked school lunch, and I always had a little extra money because I had a newspaper route or sold magazines. And to keep the bullies from taking my money, I realized I had to get it organized, and so I used to get everybody — I said, "Look, let's see how much money we got."

00:14:20 I always had the most, but everybody had a few pennies, and we'd put it all together, and then to avoid eating in the lunchroom, we'd go across the street to the grocery store, and we could buy a nickel's worth of bologna and a nickel's worth of cheese. You could get a loaf of bread for 10, 11 cents, and you could get a big RC Cola, and if we had enough, you could get a big chocolate marshmallow moon pie.

00:14:46 And then everybody would have lunch together. Now I — for me, that's a metaphor for all over the world. You’ve got to feed the hungry, and people resent you when you have too much to eat and they have nothing, and it's easier to share. It's the only way to keep peace.

00:15:04 BARBARA HARRISON: When did you feel God's presence in your life?

00:15:09 ANDREW YOUNG: I was constantly reminded of it, but it didn't really become — I didn't take it seriously until I finished college. Well, there were two things that happened to me toward the end of my college career. One, I was goofing off.

00:15:28 And I was almost not graduating, and I was lifeguard at a swimming pool, and a kid came in and almost drowned. He was an older fellow. When we pulled him up, he reminded me that he and I had gotten put out of school together in third grade. I said, "Well, where have you been?” And he said, "I've been in and out of every jail in Louisiana, including, you know, Angola Penitentiary."

00:15:55 And it was obvious to me that he was tough, and smarter than I was, and when he said, "What are you doing?" And I said, "Well, I'm trying to decide whether I'm going to quit school and go to the Army, or — I know I don't want to be a dentist, but I don't know what I want to do with my life."

00:16:13 And he just cussed me out and said, "Look, if I'd had the opportunities you have — " And he didn't have to tell me, but I realized that, “There but for the grace of God go I.” And I went back to school, and I managed to suck it up and graduate, but then on the way back from Howard University, in the days of segregation, we couldn't live in hotels and motels, so we stopped at Kings Mountain, North Carolina, where there was a church conference going on.

00:16:45 And my parents were members of the church, and I wasn't interested in the church, but I was — I'd been on the track team and swimming team, and I thought I was an athlete, so while they went to the meetings, I went out running. And I literally ran to the top of this mountain and pushed myself to total exhaustion, and I could hardly breathe, and when I looked up and — I mean I took off my shirt and, you know, put it on a rock because I was ringing wet.

00:17:24 And I looked out at the horizon, and it just hit me that everything out here has a purpose. Everything is there for a reason. God could not have created all of this and not be a reason for me. And I came down that mountain with just a sense of peace that there must be some purpose for my life, and I don't know what it is, but I'm going to find it, and I'm going to follow it one day at a time, and that's what I've been doing for the last 60 years.

00:18:10 ALICE WINKLER: When Andrew Young came down from that mountain, destiny, perhaps, led him to volunteer with a national youth program at a place called Camp Mack in Indiana. It was run by the Church of the Brethren.

00:18:25 ANDREW YOUNG: The Church of the Brethren is one of the historic peace churches, along with the Mennonites and Quakers, and the first day I was there, a young man by the name of Tom Bowman asked me had I ever read anything about Gandhi. And I said, no, I hadn't, and he gave me a little book, Nehru on Gandhi. The only other black person at that conference was Eduardo Mondlane from Mozambique, who ended up going back to Mozambique, starting the liberation struggle there, FRELIMO.

00:18:59 But when we talked about Gandhi's nonviolence there, his view was, this will certainly work for us in Mozambique, and I was very skeptical. I said, "I don't know that this will work in the American South." Well, it was just the opposite. When he started his demonstrations, the Portuguese machine-gunned them, and that pushed them into violence.

00:19:30 We were able to gradually evolve into a fairly independent, aggressive, nonviolent movement, and we were able to bring the communities along with us. So the amazing thing about our civil rights movement was not that people got killed but that so few of us got killed.

00:19:55 ALICE WINKLER: Camp Mack was one of the turning points in Young’s life. When it ended, they sent him to work in Connecticut, and they offered him housing at the Hartford Seminary. When the dean tempted him to stay with the offer of a scholarship, Andrew Young agreed.

00:20:11 ANDREW YOUNG: Well, my father and I had a real — only time he ever got angry with me was when I told him I was not going to be a dentist, and even though he was very religious, and a very big member of the church and tither, he said he would not support me. He said, "All of the preachers I know are either poor or crooked, and I'll have nothing to do with that. You know, if you want to do this, you’ve got to do it on your own."

00:20:37 ALICE WINKLER: Young made it through seminary on his own and had no intention of returning to the South. He wanted to settle in New York, and he still harbored dreams of running in the Olympics, but then he got a call, asking if he’d take a position at a church in the little town of Marion, Alabama, and this was another turning point in the life of Andrew Young.

00:20:58 I had never heard of Marion, Alabama, and I didn't want any parts of Alabama. My life was planned, but the thing that I always said was that, if God had something for me to do, it would be something that nobody else would do. And everybody wanted to go to the Olympics, everybody wanted to be in New York, but nobody would go to Marion, Alabama but me.

00:21:26 And so I figured I was going to Marion, Alabama. Now when I got there, as soon as I walked in the first home, I realized that God sent me there to have a wife, because there was a Bible on the table that had been underlined, and there was a senior lifesaving certificate on the wall, and there were not many black women who were good swimmers.

00:21:51 ALICE WINKLER: And there were other signs of an interesting, pretty, athletic young woman in the house, but the woman, Jean, was not there, only her mother. Jean, it turned out, was at a Church of the Brethren college. The Church of the Brethren, remember, was where Andrew Young had first encountered Gandhi’s teachings.

00:22:10 ANDREW YOUNG: I always say that coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous, and I figure that God had put me in this trick because I was supposed to marry this woman. And I believe it to this day, because I decided, even before I met her and before I saw her, that this was going to be my wife. Now the irony of it is that another little girl that went to high school with her was Coretta Scott.

00:22:39 And a little further down in the county, in Uniontown, was another little girl who was Juanita Jones, who became Juanita Abernathy. So all three of us, who did not know each other, ended up marrying women from this same little county, and it was this same little county that brought us back to Selma and led to the march from Selma to Montgomery when Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed there.

00:23:06 And when we were going to Marion, Alabama with Martin Luther King years later, there was a normal road to go, and we had heard from the Justice Department that they were planning to ambush Dr. King and kill him on that road to Selma. And he was going to go anyway, and because I had been there as the pastor and had married a wife from there, and he had, too, we knew the back roads.

00:23:34 And we went the back roads and went to my mother-in-law's house, and she fixed lunch for us. And so all of my life has seemed to be like a jigsaw puzzle that, if I look carefully at the pieces, I'll see how they fit. I don't know that it's preordained, but if I make the right choices, the right things happen.

00:23:58 ALICE WINKLER: There’s no doubt Andrew Young made the right choice marrying Jean. It was 1954, the year she got her teaching certificate, and the year the Supreme Court ruled in Brown versus Board of Education. For a while, they moved to New York, but it was Jean who pulled them back to the South, Young says, and toward the Civil Rights Movement.

00:24:18 ANDREW YOUNG: I say that if Martin and I had not married the little country girls we married from Alabama, you never would have heard our names.

00:24:34 ALICE WINKLER: When the Montgomery bus boycott began in 1955, remember, Andrew and Jean Young had not yet met the Kings, but Andrew Young later heard the stories from them, and to this day he takes great pleasure in keeping those stories alive. Martin Luther King and Coretta, he told interviewer Barbara Harrison, were fairly new to Montgomery at the time. King took a job as a pastor there while he was still working on his Ph.D., not really ever intending to get involved politically outside of his church.

00:25:05 ANDREW YOUNG: Two weeks after he finished his dissertation and mailed it back to Boston University, Rosa Parks sat down in a bus. He didn't know anything about it. He didn't plan it, but there was a group of women who were teachers at Tuskegee Institute and Alabama State University in Montgomery, and it was kind of a progressive women's club.

00:25:34 And they had been very upset about the way people were treated on the buses, and several young black women had been jailed, beaten, brutalized on the buses, but they didn't feel as though they were — they were looking for the right person to start a protest. Well, Rosa Parks was one of the sweetest women in the world.

00:26:02 She never raised her voice. Everybody in town respected her, and when they put her off the bus and took her to jail, they had their candidate. And these women went to E.D. Nixon, who was the head of the NAACP, and they said, "Look, if you have the big Baptist minister or the big Methodist minister head this movement, we're going to have the same old rivalry we've always had. Why don't you try to convince them to let this young man" — now he was 26 then — "let this young man lead the movement." So —

00:26:44 BARBARA HARRISON: Did he shirk at that responsibility?

00:26:48 ANDREW YOUNG: Well, he didn't have a choice. I mean actually, when they were having the discussion and the vote, I understand, he was back in the back running the mimeograph machine, doing flyers for the boycott. And so when they came and got him and he came back in the meeting and they told him he had been elected the president, it was, like, 6:30, 7:00 at night, and he had one hour to prepare to get up and give a speech that had to be militant enough to galvanize people, but it had to be reasoned and passive enough to keep people's anger from boiling over into violence.

00:27:37 And Coretta had just had her baby, Yolanda, and she couldn't come, and she got the choir director from Alabama A&M to take one of these big two-reel tape recorders — because she didn't know what he was going to say, and he didn't have time, but she got — I think his name was Robert Williams, to go there and record the speech.

00:28:05 ALICE WINKLER: It is astonishing that that speech, delivered before King was a public figure, has survived on tape. The audio’s pretty rough, as you might imagine, but so worth the listen. Here's a little taste of it.

00:28:19 MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: We, the disinherited of this land, we who have been oppressed so long, are tired of going through the long night of captivity. And now we are reaching out for the daybreak of freedom and justice and equality.

00:28:36 ANDREW YOUNG: It’s miraculous, but all of the themes that later occurred in the March on Washington, his Nobel Prize speech and “Mountaintop” speech, you can see glimpses of that. You hear him talking about dreams. You hear him talking about the visions of America's future. You hear the seeds of a genius planted by God in a single, little individual who was five feet seven inches tall and weighed 160 pounds.

00:29:06 And one of the things I'm really most proud of is that now, that he's got a 30-foot statue here on the Mall.

00:29:13 Because we always wanted to be tall.

00:29:16 ALICE WINKLER: There’s just a skooch of irony in Andrew Young’s pride over the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. on the Mall in Washington, because back in 1963, Young says, he really wasn’t very excited about coming to D.C. for the March on Washington. He was too busy mobilizing and organizing for demonstrations in the South, and besides, he’d just landed in jail in Savannah while trying to get fellow activist Hosea Williams out of jail.

00:29:44 So Young’s fight was elsewhere, and he had little or nothing to do with the planning of the March on Washington.

00:29:50 ANDREW YOUNG: And I thought this was going be a nice little tea party and the real movement was in the South. I'd been to a march on Washington in 1957, where Dr. King spoke about “Give Us the Ballot,” but you know, it was a nice rally. We were trying to change the South, and we did — we were a little too arrogant to see that a Southern black movement could not change America.

00:30:21 What it took was a national movement, what Dr. King called a coalition of conscience, and he said, "We'll never be a majority. We will never be a black majority, but there is in America a majority of people of goodwill, and it doesn't matter what color they are or what their vocations are or their national origin or religion."

00:30:45 I think none of us were able to estimate how big the turnout would be, and we were all surprised because, see, the nation's capital was seeing this as a threat, and they were mobilizing the Army and the National Guard, and they were expecting trouble. And what happened was people and their families turned out.

00:31:16 And they dressed up like they were going to church, and the trainloads came from the South, and they came down from New York and Philadelphia, and there was a planeload of movie stars, which included — you know, Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier organized it, but it included Charlton Heston and Marlon Brando and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and Dianne Carroll, Rita Moreno, I mean, Tony Bennett.

00:31:48 And we said, "Golly, this is something." It really universalized the movement and made it not just a black Southern movement, but it made it a national movement. It made it a multiracial movement, and it made it a movement for human rights in general, not just against segregation.

00:32:13 ALICE WINKLER: Andrew Young has a great story about the speech Martin Luther King delivered on that day. He was only allotted nine minutes for it, funny enough, despite his central role.

00:32:23 ANDREW YOUNG: There was a lot of rivalry and a little pettiness between all the organizations, and everybody wanted to speak first because in those days we figured to get on the six o’clock news you had to speak before three o’clock. So everybody wanted to speak first, and they were jockeying for position, and he was — he said, "I'll speak last." But everybody else spoke too long, and he was trying to discipline himself to stay within his nine minutes that was allotted.

00:32:54 And the speech that he wrote was exactly nine minutes, and the night before, in this Willard Hotel, he was walking around timing it, but he had made that same “I Have A Dream” speech in Detroit back in June, and Mahalia Jackson had been there. And Mahalia Jackson had just finished singing when Martin got up to speak, and as he got toward the end, Mahalia kept saying, "Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream."

00:33:27 MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character! I have a dream today!

00:34:06 ALICE WINKLER: The speech was extemporaneous, but Andrew Young is careful to point out that that doesn’t mean it was off the cuff. Martin Luther King Jr., he says, was always steeped in the ideas and always prepared.

00:34:20 ANDREW YOUNG: And he never slept. You know, Ralph used to say, "Martin's got a war on sleep, not on poverty," because he would want to discuss things, you know, two, three o’clock in the morning, and then he'd wake up at six o’clock in the morning, raring to go again. He was always reading or talking or arguing, so his life was a life of constant preparation. He'd done a lot of — and he had a brilliant memory.

00:34:50 So he could go back and quote Shakespearean things that he had not seen since he was in college, or he could — because he was a preacher preaching every Sunday, he'd always get the right Bible verse at the right time. And it was his life.

00:35:09 Right after the March on Washington, President Kennedy introduced the Civil Rights Bill, but several weeks after that, four little girls were killed in a church in Birmingham, and the same day in Birmingham, two young boys were shot down, though their stories are much less known.

00:35:26 ANDREW YOUNG: It was a terribly depressing time for us, and then six weeks later, the president was killed, and that was a very dark, depressing time for us because he said, "You know, if they can't protect the president with 400 Secret Service, you know our days are numbered. Any day can be our last." And so — and then he'd laugh and joke about it. He said, "So you’d better be always ready," and then he had a way of disarming you when you’d get nervous and scared.

00:36:05 He'd say, "But don't worry, Andy. You'll probably take a bullet before me, but I'll preach you into heaven." And then he'd start preaching your funeral.

00:36:18 And having you laugh at all the things you wouldn't want anybody to say in church about you, he would say it like he was preaching your eulogy, and so — but we were very nervous about how this bill was going to be passed. And there'd been a civil rights movement in St. Augustine, Florida since 1960, and he sent me down to St. Augustine, early 1964, to stop the movement because we were afraid —

00:36:56 The Klan was very aggressive and violent down in Florida. It still is, kind of. And he didn't want there to be any retaliation, so he sent me to stop the movement. And when I got down there, and I told them, “Dr. King said we don't need to march anymore” — that the battle has moved to Washington — “and he's afraid that any violence will make it impossible to pass a civil rights bill,” people were what we had learned to call “freedom high.”

00:37:33 And they said, "We're not waiting on Washington. We want to be free here," and so I agreed to lead them. We went down, marched down, and I thought when they saw the Klan they'd be ready to turn around, but we stopped and prayed, and I said, "Anybody — " I said, "We really don't have to go down and face this kind of violence. We could go back to the church." And some lady started singing, "Be Not Dismayed Whate’er Betide, God Will Take Care of You."

00:38:06 And everybody said, "We want to march. We don't want the Klan to turn us around." And so I had to lead them down there, and when I got there, we were mostly women and children, and there were a couple of hundred, mostly pretty big men with chains and bricks and bottles.

00:38:25 And so to try to keep them safe, I kept them on one side of the street, and I went across the street, as was my custom, trying to reason with the Klan. And I was doing pretty well, I thought, until somebody, somebody hit me on the back of the head with a blackjack, and then somebody — I was knocked out.

00:38:51 ALICE WINKLER: But somebody picked Andrew Young up and revived him, and they just kept right on marching, with swings and blows coming at them. President Johnson and the nation followed the brutality of the segregationists in St. Augustine. They saw images of a white hotel owner pouring acid into his own whites-only pool while protestors swam. That helped secure passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which Andrew Young had helped draft.

00:39:23 The next year, he helped draft the Voting Rights Act. Here’s an account of that momentous year in our nation's history as Young told it to journalist Barbara Harrison.

00:39:34 ANDREW YOUNG: Martin won the Nobel Prize after the '64 bill passed, and in December of 1964, we went to Norway for him to receive the Nobel Prize. And coming back, we stopped in Washington to see President Johnson. And he was saying that there was no way he could introduce another civil rights bill, and he went on for over an hour about the president not having as much power and he had pushed Congress about as far as he could push them.

00:40:14 So we left there, and I was a little disappointed, and I asked Dr. King, "Well, what did you think?" And he said, "I think we’ve got to find a way to get this president a little more power."

00:40:27 And, you know, I figured, "This guy’s crazy." But we go back home. In a few days, Mrs. Amelia Boynton from Selma, who's now 103, but who then was still in her 50s, came over and said what was going on in Selma. That her husband — they wouldn't even let her husband's funeral go into a church because they said her husband was too political and it was against the law to talk politics in the church.

00:41:06 And you couldn't walk down the street with more than two people, and Sheriff Jim Clark had created a police state, and she said that, "We can't survive this way. You've got to come to Selma to help us." And so, on the second of January, just two weeks after President Lyndon Johnson said he didn't have the power, we went to Selma.

00:41:38 And by the end of March, President Johnson was standing before a joint session of Congress and introducing voting rights legislation, which later passed, but he ended his speech with, "We shall overcome." Now that sounds easy, except that there were several deaths. Jimmie Lee Jackson in Marion, Alabama, was killed by a state trooper. Jonathan Daniels, James — Reverend James Reeb, Father Morrisroe. Stokely Carmichael was shot at.

00:42:21 Viola Liuzzo was killed coming back from the march in Montgomery. So we gave the president the power, but it really cost the blood of many people that were willing to sacrifice their lives that this nation might, as Dr. King would say, live out the true meaning of its creeds.

00:42:53 BARBARA HARRISON: You were with Dr. King when he was killed in Memphis. How did that moment change your life?

00:43:00 ANDREW YOUNG: Well, in a very strange way. It liberated his spirit from his body, and at first, I was angry, not at the people for killing him, but for him leaving us, because he had a firm faith in life beyond this world, and so he was not afraid of death.

00:43:28 And we used to think sometimes that he was almost knowing it was inevitable, but he'd say, "You don't have anything — you're going to die. Everybody's going to die. You have no choice about where you die, how you die. Your only choice is what you die for."

00:43:54 ALICE WINKLER: Reverend, activist, congressman, ambassador, and mayor, Andrew Young. There is much about his life in public service that followed the death of Martin Luther King that we haven’t even touched on, so please, do yourself a favor, go to and read more about this extraordinary man. He’s also featured, along with Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, in the Academy of Achievement e-book The Road to Civil Rights.

00:44:23 It's free at iTunes University. I’m Alice Winkler, and this is What It Takes. Our Twitter handle is @WhatItTakesNow, so take a moment and tweet out the most interesting thing you heard in this episode, and let your friends know that Lauryn Hill is next in our lineup. You heard me, Lauryn Hill. What It Takes is made possible with funding from the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation. Thanks for listening.

What It Takes is a podcast of conversations with well-known people in almost every field. The interviews have been recorded over the past 25 years by the American Academy of Achievement. They offer life stories of people who have had a huge impact on the world. They offer insights you can apply to your own life.