Opinion: Protecting right to vote honors civil rights leader’s legacy

Credit: Tyson A. Horne, tyson.horne@ajc.com

Credit: Tyson A. Horne, tyson.horne@ajc.com

Andrew Young’s daughter on carrying his work forward.

This month, our city honored my father Andrew Young on his 90th birthday. A brilliant and meaningful experience for him, he was surrounded by his beloved Atlanta – the cradle of the civil rights movement and the heart of much of his work. I believe most Georgians are proud of the history my dad wrote, and the social movement he helped create, as he fought for equality and justice for all.

As his daughter who carries this legacy as the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia (ACLU of Georgia), I am both mindful and heartbroken that some of his accomplishments are in jeopardy. Truthfully, much remains to be done to fulfill the vision of the civil and human rights movement.

While many of those who fought alongside him are no longer with us, we honor their spirit and continue to carry their legacy and aspirations to the next generation.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Take for example the recent issue in rural Lincoln County, Ga. County leaders tried to consolidate their seven polling locations into one, effectively instituting a poll tax in the form of long, expensive commutes to and from the voting booth, making voting an impossibility as many of their citizens wouldn’t be able to get to a poll. It is an example of why we must remain vigilant to any attempt to impede our constitutional right to vote.

In Georgia, like many states across our country, access to voting has become more difficult and due to redistricting, many voters are unable to vote for candidates who express their preferred policies and platforms. The ACLU of Georgia sued the state in a recent redistricting case we believe violates the Voting Rights Act. Unfortunately, time wasn’t on our side for this year’s elections. Our litigation will continue, and we’re hopeful that the acknowledgement by the courts that the new maps likely violate the Voting Rights Act will translate into a victory for Georgia voters in 2023.

My dad always told me that politics is the way we fulfill the command of Jesus – to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and seek liberty for the oppressed. I felt that sentiment last week when people of all faiths and political stripes, near and far, united to honor him.

As we enter a critical election year in Georgia and despite what feels like a cynical time, I will continue to shepherd a hallmark of my father’s legacy – his work in protecting the ballot box. His life is defined by his commitment to extending and protecting the civil and human rights of every single person in our state.

Atlanta has a remarkable history of leaders who have called on us to embrace the beautiful diversity in our city and state. Ivan Allen, Sam Massell, Maynard Jackson, Jimmy Carter, Shirley Franklin, Andre Dickens -- and my dad. But our home is imperfect, and we must obstruct the attempts to create an imbalance in power.

The ACLU of Georgia and allied organizations are working to do exactly this – preserve the legacy of our vibrant city and protect the dreams of those who led the civil rights movement. Unfortunately, much of our modern-day work is rooted in the impact of disinformation, whether it be the security of elections, the need for classroom censorship or discrimination of the rights of Georgians.

My father’s legacy carries a torch for many. I like to think about when 62 years ago, the Atlanta Student Movement organized a call to conscience to our community’s leaders to support a multicultural, multiracial and inclusive democracy in our state. Their peaceful and impactful efforts to alleviate racial tensions were felt in Atlanta and beyond.

Let us all continue the relay race of my father, and all those he inspired, to help create the America of their dreams, of my dreams – an America that is true to its creed that all people are equal.

Andrea Young is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.