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Annabella Jean-Laurent

Andrea Young on her father’s legacy and Atlanta’s transformation

Photograph courtesy of the Boyd Lewis Photographs Collection at the Atlanta History Center
Photograph courtesy of the Boyd Lewis Photographs Collection at the Atlanta History Center

Andrew Young might be best known for his role in the civil rights movement, about which he’s produced several documentaries in recent years, but he also has an important legacy as mayor of Atlanta from 1982 to 1989. Three years ago his daughter Andrea Young decided he needed a documentary treatment of his own. In partnership with the Andrew J. Young Foundation and Georgia State University, she developed “The Making of Modern Atlanta,” which explores the political strategy of her father and other Atlanta mayors.

What inspired the “Making of Modern Atlanta”?
Three years ago, I was a member of Leadership Atlanta, a program that invites mid- to upper level professionals from different sectors to learn about the community and its issues. During a lecture, longtime civic leaders held a discussion about the city’s political history [and] all these stories were being told about mayor Hartsfield, mayor Allen, and my dad—but people were looking around like, “We don’t know [about] this.” That was sort of the genesis of it. We looked at the policies and leadership that contributed to Atlanta’s transformation.

You also address the influential role of the African American community in this transformation.
The documentary shows how Atlanta has uniquely addressed a lot of the challenges of race, and the coalition between the business community and the African American community. Throughout the project, we are showing that this civic engagement was strategic. You had a white power structure that was rational, and a sophisticated African American community that knew how to leverage political power for economic benefits. Maynard Jackson’s grandfather [John Wesley Dobbs] talks about “the book, the ballot, and the buck,” and you saw that. So we had the strength of our educational institutions, and the political power to get a share of the economic pie.

What made your father a unique leader as mayor?
If you looked at Atlanta in 1960, nobody would’ve thought we could have [hosted] an Olympics in 1996. [He] had what was called a “fairness formula,” where growth had to be inclusive, where a coalition had to work together for the growth of the city. My father was strategic. It was not about quick results. There was a leadership by example. You were not a big deal if you were not giving money, so that set a tone of philanthropy.

What work still needs to be done in Atlanta?
It’s not enough for it to just be about black and white. It has to be multiracial and we have to be very conscious that we are bringing in lower income communities, and intentional about including Hispanics, Asians, and women. We have to expand. We also have to be aware that black leaders are not necessarily as connected to the overall black community, which used to be the case.

We need to get back to young people [starting] their own businesses and not just working for a big company. With all the educational institutions here, you have such opportunity for networking, and building careers and businesses. But inclusion is the secret formula.

What do you hope people learn from this project?
That you can do things that make a difference. And [while] people may seem different from you, they may still share a lot of the aspirations that you have for your community. [We recently] marked the 50th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize recognition dinner for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To think that in 1965, black and white people came together in Atlanta to celebrate Dr. King. The Civil Rights Act had just taken effect a year prior, and so the year before it would’ve been an illegal gathering in the state of Georgia. That is Atlanta’s legacy.

On the calendar On April 21, “The Making of Modern Atlanta” airs on Georgia Public Broadcasting at 8 p.m.

This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue under the headline “Remembering Young’s Atlanta plan.”

Q&A: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey’s ‘Native Guard’ premieres at Alliance Theatre

Photograph by Nancy Crampton
Photograph by Nancy Crampton

In September, the Alliance Theatre premieres a play based on Native Guard, the Pulitzer Prize–winning work by Natasha Trethewey that pairs her experience as the child of a then-illegal interracial marriage in Mississippi with the account of a black Civil War soldier. An Emory professor, Trethewey completed two terms as poet laureate of the United States. We talked about taking poetry from page to stage.

How were you involved in the staging?
I sat in on preliminary rehearsals, met with the actor who’s playing the role of the poet, and watched readings. I offered suggestions about timing and pace, but I wasn’t required to write anything. I was sort of a lucky bystander.

How is it for you to see your poetry, which is sometimes deeply personal, performed so publicly?
My poetry seems like it’s this real personal experience, but it’s not so personal when I write it. It’s something I write to give away to a reader.

What new life did your poetry receive on stage?
Well, I used epigraphs throughout the book. But what I know from teaching is that students often skip over not only the epigraphs but also the title of the poem; they forget that these are actually part of the poem.

And in this theatrical production, [epigraphs] are being spoken aloud, and something else happens where these words transition between one poem to the next. Also, some of those epigraphs are music, such as lines from Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam.” On the page, these are just words, but on stage, you actually hear the vocals. That is what poetry on a page is not able to do, but on a stage it can.

Native Guard runs September 26–October 19.

This article originally appeared in our September 2014 issue.

Flashback: The 1895 Cotton States Exposition and the Negro Building

When Booker T. Washington delivered his famous, “Atlanta Compromise,” speech inside Gilbert’s Auditorium on opening day of the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition, it was the first time an African-American addressed a mixed (albeit separately seated) audience in the South. The Exposition Committee, which was comprised of wealthy Southern businessmen, including Samuel Inman and Charles Collier, appointed Washington to help tout the New South movement.

This “New South,” had traded in its plantations for a technological and agricultural industry, and was ready to showcase its achievements to the world. In addition, as host of the Atlanta Exposition, Atlanta used the fair to position itself as “Capital of the South.”

But for the New South to thrive, it had to convince visitors that it was no longer racially divided, and fair organizers believed that Washington’s speech, with its pragmatic statement, “separate as the fingers but one as the hand in all things;” solved the race problem by legitimizing a separate but equal society.

However, as nearly 1 million people poured through Piedmont Park from September 18 through December 31, 1895, it was not the “Atlanta Compromise,” or Fine Arts Building, or even the Transportation or Woman’s buildings, which legitimized the New South. Rather, it was an unfamiliar pavilion, located on the outskirts of the fairgrounds called the Negro Building that helped push the New South, and make Atlanta its regional hub.

Opening on October 21, 1895, a month after the Exposition began, the Negro Building was the first designated space, since Emancipation, for the showcase of African-American achievement in a white-dominated setting. Without it, the Exposition committee could have not received federal backing, and those funds appropriated from Congress, are what helped make the fair an international success. Strategically located at the Jackson Street entrance to Piedmont Park (what is now Charles Allen Drive), the Negro Building may have been purposely segregated, as its entrance led directly south through the Fourth Ward and Auburn Avenue; two of Atlanta’s predominantly black districts.

Despite its obscure location, the Negro Building featured hundreds of designs, sculptures, art pieces, and performance art, by black students from more than two dozen Southern colleges including Atlanta Baptist Seminary (now Morehouse College), Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary (now Spelman College), Howard University, and Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. Not just students, but hundreds of black businessperson, artists, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs also used the Negro Building to exhibit their work.

Aside from its exhibits, the Negro Building served as a gathering place for dozens of civil rights leaders, religious leaders, and philanthropists. They held conferences, caucuses, debates, and discussions surrounding the African-American movement in America.

While Atlanta dubbed itself the Southern capital, the Negro Building solidified its title. At the same time, as an international audience stood witness, the Negro Building helped promote the New South, which in turn, helped revitalize the economy. Despite all this, the Negro Building remains largely forgotten history.

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