Andrew Young: How Atlanta became the 'city too busy to hate'
On a recent episode of "Influencers with Andy Serwer," civil rights leader and former ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young praised the city of Atlanta for its role in the fight for civil rights — citing a slogan that captured the city's commitment to both equality and productivity.
“I think I'm most proud of the fact that we set out a slogan, 'a city too busy to hate',” Young told Yahoo Finance. “And it looks like we're living up to it.”
Born and raised in New Orleans, Young served as a pastor and became a leader in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, working with Dr. Martin Luther King on campaigns in Birmingham, Selma, and Atlanta. He also served as the U.S. Congressman from Georgia, the first African American Ambassador to the United Nations, and as the mayor of Atlanta.
The phrase “Too busy to hate” emerged in the 1950s and 1960s as part of a campaign to fight racism and promote business in Atlanta.
“And it was a good, good, good slogan,” said Young, who served as mayor from 1982 to 1990. “And it was it was understood that Atlanta was about business. It didn't have time for racism and for keeping anybody down. It was it was a city that was supposedly lifting everybody up.”
'We were a unique city'
Atlanta played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement, serving as the home of some of its important organizations including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and The Atlanta University Center, a consortium of Black universities. Young says the city’s Black intellectuals were integral to the movement. In the 1940s and 1950s, Atlanta served as a hub for notable Black thinkers including W.E.B Dubois, Dr. Benjamin Mays, and Howard Thurman.
“Now, we were a unique city, because in the '40s and '50s, when all of this was going on, we probably had more Black PhDs in Atlanta than anywhere else in the world,” Young said. “You had two or three Black PhDs from Ivy League universities, who were the first to get them from those universities.”
Local government soon realized that relationships with such luminaries would be critical for the economic health of the city. During his first term as mayor of Atlanta, William Hartsfield pushed for airport development. However, he was unable to garner Atlantans’ support and he lost his bid for re-election in 1940. According to Young, Hartsfield’s defeat prompted Ivan Allen, who was then director of the state Chamber of Commerce, and Grace Towns Hamilton, the head of the Urban League, to push for an alliance between Atlanta’s businesspeople and Black intellectuals.
The business community later stepped up its role in the fight for civil rights. For instance, after Martin Luther King won the Nobel Prize in 1964, Atlantans organized a dinner at the Dinkler Plaza Hotel to celebrate his achievement. When social conservatives ignored the gathering, the leaders of Coca-Cola successfully rallied Atlanta's business leaders to attend the event.
“If the city was going to move forward, it was going to have to be a coalition of the Black intellectuals and the white business community,” Young remarked. “And that's what made Atlanta work.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this piece stated that Governor William Hartsfield increased police presence in the city of Atlanta. The error has been corrected.
Dylan Croll is a reporter and researcher at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @CrollonPatrol.
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