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 with equality and productivity.
“I think I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve established a slogan, ‘a city too busy to hate,’” Young told Yahoo Finance. “And it looks like we’re living up to that.”
Born and raised in New Orleans, Young served as a pastor and became a leader in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He served as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King in campaigns in Birmingham, Selma and Atlanta. He also served as US Congressman from Georgia, the first African-American Ambassador to the United Nations, and as the 55th 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 understood that Atlanta was about business. I had no time for racism and keeping anyone down. It was a city that was supposed to be lifting everyone up.”
‘We were a unique city’
Atlanta played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement, serving as the headquarters for 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 is black intellectuals were an integral part of the movement. In the 1940s and 1950s, Atlanta served as a center for notable black thinkers, including WEB Dubois, Dr. Benjamin Mays and Howard Thurman.
“Now, we were a unique city, because in the 40s and 50s, when all this was happening, 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.”
The local government soon realized that relationships with such luminaries would be critical to the city’s economic health. During his first term as mayor of Atlanta, William Hartsfield increased the police presence in the city and pushed for the airport’s development. However, he failed to gain the support of the Atlantans and lost his re-election bid in 1940. Hartsfield’s defeat prompted Ivan Allen, who was then director of the state Chamber of Commerce, and Grace Towns Hamilton, head of the Urban League, to press for an alliance between Atlanta businessmen and black intellectuals.
The business community subsequently intensified its role in the struggle for civil rights. For example, after Martin Luther King won the Nobel Prize in 1964, Atlantans hosted a dinner at the Dinkler Plaza Hotel to celebrate his achievement. When social conservatives ignored the meeting, Coca-Cola leaders were able to rally Atlanta business leaders to attend the event.
“If the city was going to move forward, it would have to be a coalition of black intellectuals and the white business community,” noted Young. “And that’s what made Atlanta work.”
Dylan Croll is a reporter and researcher at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @CrollonPatrol.
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