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

She discusses the work of Andrew Young—civil rights leader, U.S. congressman, United Nations ambassador, mayor of Atlanta—and the documentary project “The Making of Modern Atlanta.”
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.”