Andrew Young on white nationalists, Gulch deal and diversity at FBI

Former Atlanta Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young spoke Tuesday at a diversity event held by the FBI.
Former Atlanta Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young spoke Tuesday at a diversity event held by the FBI.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

At 86 years old, former U.S. Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young Jr. is the same age his grandmother was when he’d hear her fussing with the Lord to let her go to heaven. Young isn’t quite as ready, as he made clear Tuesday morning: he’s got places to be, things to do and, as ever, things to say.

Young was the keynote speaker for an event celebrating diversity at the FBI’s Atlanta office in DeKalb County, where he praised the bureau and touched on a variety of issues, including white nationalist groups in Georgia and the much-debated Gulch deal to transform downtown Atlanta.


READ: Young hospitalized last year


Young, a student of (and participant in) history, told a crowd of more 100 bureau workers he hoped they would protect people of color from racist militias and groups that are operating around the state. There have been multiple white nationalist events around Georgia, bringing the groups into focus, in the past few years, though counter-protesters often outnumber the militia members who show up. But Young encouraged the bureau to take the threat seriously.

“I hope the bureau is as effective now in this possible crisis as you were in the ‘60s when you were the only law enforcement we could be sure of,” he said.

He was referring to federal agents coming into the Deep South to investigate crimes of racial violence that local lawmen wouldn’t.

Young in a file photo.
Young in a file photo.

Credit: 2014 Getty Images AJC

Credit: 2014 Getty Images AJC

“I’m frankly worried for poor white people,” he said, suggesting that as the country’s institutions have worked to better serve minorities, they’ve left some white residents, particularly ones who were brought up on racist ideas, feeling forgotten and neglected. “They blame their poverty on our success.”

He compared them to disenfranchised African-Americans who rose up in sometimes riotous demonstrations in American cities in decades past. The white nationalists could harbor similar anger – except they have guns, he said.

In his freewheeling speech, he also said he thought the Atlanta City Council should get behind the proposed $5 billion project that, using a public financing package, would transform “the Gulch,” a languishing area of downtown near Mercedes Benz stadium.

“I don’t know why they still don’t get it,” he said. “We’re not rich enough to turn down (the) investment.”

“The city is booming like no other,” he went on, “and it’s high quality growth.”

ExploreOn Tuesday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance bottoms made public a new proposed deal to develop the Gulch — the new terms were necessary because of a lack of Council support so far. 

Keeping with the theme of the event, Young said he felt the FBI was doing well to keep up with the diversifying region and country. Diversity – in terms of race, religion, nationality and sex – is built into life and can’t be ignored.

The FBI’s special agent in charge, J.C. Hacker, said the bureau was in the midst of working to diversify the ranks. A “diverse workforce is critical,” he said while introducing Young.

Young praised the bureau. He even had a charitable recollection of FBI’s bugging of Civil Rights activists in the 1960s, which he said was something he and Martin Luther King Jr. would joke about. At least someone was taking good notes from their meetings, King would say.

Fifty years later, Young looked around the crowd of workers gathered at the event and, to chuckles, concluded there weren’t enough white people.

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