Mountaintop revelation sets Andrew Young on his path

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Ernie Suggs is the author of a new book, "The Many Lives of Andrew Young." Video by Ryon Horne and Tyson Horne

An excerpt from ‘The Many Lives of Andrew Young’

“The Many Lives of Andrew Young” (NewSouth Books, $60) by Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Ernie Suggs includes chapters on Andrew Young’s life at Howard University and his inner conflict over whether to follow his father’s path in dentistry or set his own course into the ministry. In this excerpt, Suggs uses Young’s own words to explore the period immediately after his tenuous 1951 graduation from Howard, when he ran away from it all and found religious clarity.

When I got close to graduation, I really wasn’t sure I was going to graduate. I mean, I wasn’t interested enough to even check my curriculum to see what courses I’d taken, what my grades were. I was surprised when they had my name on the matriculation list.

But I didn’t want my parents to come up. Because all through school, my parents were always looking to see their friends’ children shine, and I didn’t shine.

But I really got an education, and I had a wonderful time. It was the diversity, because Howard was predominantly Black, but it wasn’t all Black. It was African. It was Middle Eastern. It was Caribbean. A few Asians. I got to understand the world, not from reading books.

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Andrew Young's family, from left: Andrew Jr., father Andrew Sr., mother Daisy and brother Walter. From the book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young.” Copyright © 2022 by Ernie Suggs. Reprinted by permission of NewSouth Books. (Andrew Young Personal Collection)

Credit: Andrew Young Personal Collection

Andrew Young's family, from left: Andrew Jr., father Andrew Sr., mother Daisy and brother Walter. From the book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young.” Copyright © 2022 by Ernie Suggs. Reprinted by permission of NewSouth Books. (Andrew Young Personal Collection)

Credit: Andrew Young Personal Collection

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Andrew Young's family, from left: Andrew Jr., father Andrew Sr., mother Daisy and brother Walter. From the book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young.” Copyright © 2022 by Ernie Suggs. Reprinted by permission of NewSouth Books. (Andrew Young Personal Collection)

Credit: Andrew Young Personal Collection

Credit: Andrew Young Personal Collection

The books I read were biology books and chemistry books. I really took no philosophy. The only course I took in sociology, I got a D in because my professor, who had two doctorates from the Sorbonne and the University of Chicago, was trying to tell me about juvenile delinquency and what the theories were.

And I just said: “Dr. Khrushchev, I’m sorry. It’s not that way. You read about it in books, I’ve been living with delinquents all my life.”

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Courtesy of NewSouth Books

Credit: NewSouth Books

Courtesy of NewSouth Books

Credit: NewSouth Books

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Courtesy of NewSouth Books

Credit: NewSouth Books

Credit: NewSouth Books

In my high school class, only a fourth of us went to college and a fourth of us went to the military. The other half went to jail and it wasn’t because they were delinquent. It was because they were poor and Black. I said all of these books that are talking about the shape of the skull and all of that crap, none of that makes sense. Trust me, I know more hoodlums than any of these guys who wrote these books.

Because I would stand up to the professors and argue with them, I didn’t get such good grades. I insisted on being independent of everybody.

The track coach didn’t want to give me track shoes or a uniform because I was small. I borrowed some shoes from my brother and got in a race and beat everybody. And the coach still didn’t want to give me any, so I had to keep my brother’s shoes. Part of it was the easy, playful, irresponsible way that I carried myself. I wasn’t doing what they wanted me to do, but I was enjoying myself, and I was learning, and I was developing.

My swimming coach, I am not even sure he could swim, because he never gave me any pointers. I’d go to the library and check out a book on swimming and coach myself. But I had a wonderful time. I met a wonderful young lady, who quit me when I said I was going into the ministry.

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Andrew Young during his years in college. From the book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young.” Copyright © 2022 by Ernie Suggs. Reprinted by permission of NewSouth Books. (Daisy Fuller Collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University)

Credit: Daisy Fuller Collection

Andrew Young during his years in college. From the book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young.” Copyright © 2022 by Ernie Suggs. Reprinted by permission of NewSouth Books. (Daisy Fuller Collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University)

Credit: Daisy Fuller Collection

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Andrew Young during his years in college. From the book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young.” Copyright © 2022 by Ernie Suggs. Reprinted by permission of NewSouth Books. (Daisy Fuller Collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University)

Credit: Daisy Fuller Collection

Credit: Daisy Fuller Collection

I was supposed to go to New York to train with the Pioneer Track Club for the 1952 Olympics. But my conference superintendent called and said he needed me to go to Alabama. My young lady said, “I’m sorry, I am not going south of the Potomac.”

Her father was one of the wealthiest physicians in town, and she was probably the only girl in the city who had her own car. That put an end to a wonderful university life.

When I graduated from Howard, we were driving back to New Orleans and there were no hotels, so we stopped and stayed at a church conference in King’s Mountain, North Carolina. I was still interested in running so I went out running while my mother and father were at the church conference.

When you’re running in the hills around North Carolina, nothing is flat. Everything is either slightly down or slightly up. And I had been running for a couple of miles, and I was running downhill, and I was running too fast.

I was already out of breath, and I get to this mountain trail going up to the top of King’s Mountain. And I decided I’m going to push right onto the top of the mountain. Well, I wouldn’t stop. I kept running. And when I got to the top of the mountain, I really blacked out and couldn’t breathe.

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Andrew Young speaking in a classroom in Frogmore, South Carolina, in 1966. From the book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young.” Copyright © 2022 by Ernie Suggs. Reprinted by permission of NewSouth Books. (Bob Fitch, Stanford University Collection)

Credit: Bob Fitch

Andrew Young speaking in a classroom in Frogmore, South Carolina, in 1966. From the book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young.” Copyright © 2022 by Ernie Suggs. Reprinted by permission of NewSouth Books. (Bob Fitch, Stanford University Collection)

Credit: Bob Fitch

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Andrew Young speaking in a classroom in Frogmore, South Carolina, in 1966. From the book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young.” Copyright © 2022 by Ernie Suggs. Reprinted by permission of NewSouth Books. (Bob Fitch, Stanford University Collection)

Credit: Bob Fitch

Credit: Bob Fitch

I don’t know what happened to me, but when I came to and opened my eyes, everything seemed different.

You take the sky for granted, but all of a sudden the sky was radiant.

You look at a cornfield and see this gold and yellow.

You look at the forest and the trees and the cows, everything just seemed to radiate life and meaning.

It just suddenly hit me that if everything I see has a purpose, then whoever made that made everything with a purpose.

If the trees and the cows and the corn and the sky have a purpose, there’s gotta be a purpose for me.

I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t care, but there was a certainty that I was put on this Earth for some purpose.

My life just changed in that moment of awakening.

And I ran back down the hill and didn’t get tired.

From the book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young.” Copyright © 2022 by Ernie Suggs. Reprinted by permission of NewSouth Books.