Andrew Young’s films give historical context to our modern day issues

By Maria Saporta

Voting Rights Act. Gay Marriage. Defense of Marriage Act. Filibusters on an abortion bill.

The events of last week — from the various decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court — to the statehouse in Texas, it seems as though we keep fighting the same fights over and over again — just with different twists and new players.

So it was especially heartwarming to attend a screening of two new documentaries produced by Andrew Young Presents — “The Whirlwinds of Revolt” and “1963: The Year that Changed America.”

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, a civil rights leader who worked alongside with Martin Luther King Jr., has been valiantly telling the stories of that remarkable time in the South’s history of when a non-violent movement was able to change the nation’s laws and the hearts of humanity. The Emmy Award-winning series of documentaries are directed by C.B. Hackworth.

Both of these new documentaries are narrated by Young, who almost seems to be talking to us in our living room. They include news footage from the era as well as recently recovered interviews with King and other civil rights leaders.

In hindsight, the issues seem so clear and simple. There is no question of who is on the wrong side of history and who has ended up on the right side of history.

Bombing churches that cause four young black girls in Birmingham to die is wrong. Spraying nonviolent protesters with water hoses and exposing them to attack dogs is wrong. When those stories and images were heard and seen around the world, laws were changed.

Interestingly enough, Congressman John Lewis was asked earlier this year about a possible ruling on gay marriage by the Supreme Court.

“In the late 50s and early 60s, Martin Luther King was asked how he felt about interracial marriage. ‘Races don’t fall in love and get married; individual fall in love and get married,’” Lewis recalled King saying. “You can not have equality for some and not for others.”

Seeing the two documentaries only reinforces the incredible wisdom and insights that King had .

After the showing of the two documentaries on June 24 at Georgia Public Broadcasting, Young told the audience that had gathered of all the help and cooperation that his foundation has had in the making of these films — from WSB to the University of Georgia to other archival footage, including an unfinished documentary on the life of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth from Birmingham .

“This was a project that was meant to be,” said Young, who became political for a moment. “Does any one know how I could get a copy to our president. I don’t think anybody in the White House knows about this.”

Young also recalled the sacrifices and the struggles during the movement.

“Right after the settlement (in Birmingham) and the success of the March on Washington, they cam back and bombed the church and killed four girls,” Young said.

At that point, a woman in the audience stood up and identified herself as the daughter of Rev. John Cross, the pastor of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963.

“I was 12 years old when my father went to pastor at 16th Baptist Church,” Cross said, remembering her father’s sermon on that fateful day of Sept. 15 —Love that forgives. “I will never forget the sound that ripped through that church.”

But after her tearful recollection, Cross shared a concern that she would tell her students at DeKalb County schools.

“Who is killing each other today? It’s not the KKK,” Cross said. “We’re killing each other.”

One person asked where is the movement headed today.

“We look like what we are,” Young answered. “Right now we are in a period of transition. All of this was about desegregating American legally. The right to vote was about desegregating America politically. There’s no such thing as legal racism any more. We have not made much impact on the economy.”

Young went on to say that the problems of race were not a black and white problem. It was much more universal. Everywhere in the world, there is always someone who is on the bottom.

During this period of transition, it is important to figure out how to create an economy that truly lifts all boats.

“We know how to make free enterprise work for the rich, but I now think we are undermining middle class security,” Young said.

Towards the end of his chat with GPB audience, Young began to reflect on what has been an amazing life. At 81, he seems intent to capture as much of his past as he can.

Speaking directly to Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister, Christine King Farris, Young said: “Lord kept us alive for something.”

And then he began to laugh.

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” Young said. “I was happy as a pig in slop in Birmingham when I thought I was going to be killed.”

Other documentaries made by Andrew Young Presents include: In the Footsteps of Gandhi, King in Memphis, Leaving Selma, Stars Fell on Alabama, Crossing in St. Augustine and Harmony in Hard Time.

There’s more to come.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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