When Andrew Young moved to Atlanta in 1961, restaurants and hotels were still segregated. He couldn’t eat in the lunchrooms at Rich’s or Davison’s (later Macy’s). A couple years later, when his colleague Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize and a dinner was held at the Dinkler Plaza Hotel to celebrate, many Atlantans were outraged by the bi-racial guest list. Mayor Ivan Allen and execs from Coca-Cola had to strong-arm local business leaders to take part.
In the intervening years, Young went on to serve two-terms as Atlanta mayor, represent Georgia’s fifth District in Congress, represent the country as ambassador to the United Nations, win an Emmy, serve on corporate boards, produce documentaries, and write a couple books.
Perhaps the biggest sign of how much the city’s power base has shifted and re-aligned over the past half-century is the corporate sponsorship at last night’s gala celebrating Andrew Young’s eightieth birthday. The birthday party/fundraiser for the Andrew Young Foundation was sponsored by hometown heavyweights Coke and Delta (which earlier in the week christened a plane in Young’s honor) along with Aaron’s Rents, AT&T, Chevron, Chick-fil-A, Nike, and others. There were Macy’s logos on the goodie bags and mini Coke bottles as party favors. Of course, the former mayor’s support base is broad and eclectic, so the souvenir program also contained congratulatory ads from actor Samuel L. Jackson, Grand Hustle records, the operator of the Atlanta airport Popeyes franchises, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Camp Creek World of Beverage, and the Atlanta Symphony.
The sell-out crowd gathered in the Hyatt Regency was equally eclectic. Young’s SCLC compatriot Reverend Joseph Lowery (who recently turned ninety) rolled down the red carpet in a wheelchair, but was feisty as ever. “I’m glad the old man made it to eighty, and I hope he can see eighty more. Maybe now he’ll hold down a steady job,” quipped Lowery. Hank Thomas, one of the original Freedom Riders, said that back in the early movement days, he would never have imagined this kind of event coming. “I want him to stay forever young,” he noted. Martin Luther King III, attending with wife Arndrea, said of Young: “He’s not just been a father figure and mentor to me, but to so many people across our nation. Every time I have an opportunity I’m always elated to say thank you. Of course, he’s always still Uncle Andy to me and always will be. But one who continues to give.”
Also making appearances: Decatur-born comic/movie star Chris Tucker, rapper/onetime Young mentee T.I. and his wife Tameka aka “Tiny,” TV judge Glenda Hatchett, and Biggest Loser trainer Dolvett Quince. In a bizarre red-carpet mini-trend, both Hatchett and Quince were sporting spiffed-up foot braces; hers covered in rhinestones, his “custom-made by Louis Vuitton.”
The three-plus hour cabaret-themed program—emceed by Different World alum Jasmine Guy, comedian Jonathan Slocumb, and local TV divas Monica Pearson, Brenda Wood, and Amanda Davis—was a mix of musical performances, speeches, tributes, and awards presentations. India.Arie, swirling in an orange dress and turban made by her mom, sang about acceptance, the daughters of Ray Charles and Nina Simone performed, and R&B hottie Tyrese got the crowd on its feet with a lusty rendition of his hit “Stay” and a bit of coaxing (“Ya’ll are acting a little too corporate.”). Among the dancers: guest Oprah Winfrey, who’d presented the commencement speech at Spelman earlier that day. When Young announced her as the winner of one of his foundation’s Passing On Blessings awards, Winfrey said she’d thought she was coming to present him with an honor. “I’m here to celebrate you,” she said.
Photographs by Stan Washington. Find out more at his blog, Assignment Now!