40 years later, Ambassador Andrew Young remembers his days in Congress

2:24 AM, Jan 4, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Thursday afternoon, members of the newly-minted 113th Congress were officially sworn into office as family, friends and the nation looked on.

40 years ago today, Ambassador Andrew Young took that same oath and with it, made history. Young was the first African-American politician from Georgia elected to Congress since Reconstruction.

And what a difference 40 years makes.

"Congress, in those days, was a fun place. Everybody spoke to everybody," Young remembered. "We worked out in the gym together. We went to bible study and prayer breakfast together on Wednesday morning."

"Nobody cared about Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. We liked each other and we respected each other."

Young said it was a different time; lawmakers had a common understanding of the problems they were facing.

"I would say almost 90 percent of them had served in the military and had served overseas," he said. "So they had a sense of what was going on in the world."

"Now, I think you've got a lot of people who are very local. They know their local needs. But the conflict in today's world is while all politics is local, all economics is global."

Interestingly, Young never actually planned to run for congress.

"I did it because no one else would," he said.

After several other members of his circle declined, it was actually Harry Belafonte who convinced Young to throw his hat in the ring. The two were meeting about voter registration efforts when the conversation turned to politics. Belafonte called his wife.

"'We have to have a fundraiser'," Young recalled Belafonte telling his wife. "And when she said 'what for,' he said 'Andy's running for Congress.'"

"Everybody seemed to think it was a pretty good idea but me," Young said.

But he didn't take long to get on board with the idea. Looking back, Young calls his years in Congress a very good time in his life.

"Dr. King had been assassinated for about four years, and those were the most difficult years of my life; making the transition from the civil rights movement to what's next," he said.

"When I got to Congress, everything fell together."

Today, Congress continues to face public disapproval, a feeling only intensified by the recent fiscal cliff battle. The 112th Congress has the distinction of being the most unproductive Congress since the 1940s.

So what can be done to fix it?

"It's simply talking in a casual situation and making public your agenda," Young said.

"If you keep our politics, our religion, our economics and our civility - the things that have kept us going in order - there's no problem we can't solve."

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