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 civil rights struggle — citing a slogan that captured the the city’s commitment to equality as well. and productivity.
“I think I’m most proud of the fact that we put up a slogan, ‘a city too busy to hate,'” Young told Yahoo Finance. “And we seem to be 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 a 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” appeared 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. He had no time for racism and keeping anyone down. It was a city that was supposed to lift everyone up.”
“We were a unique city”
Atlanta played a central role in the civil rights movement, serving as the home of some of its important organizations, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of black universities. Young says the town is black intellectuals were an integral part of the movement. In the 1940s and 1950s, Atlanta served as a hub 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 going on, we probably had more black Ph.D.s 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 economic health of the city. During his first term as mayor of Atlanta, William Hartsfield increased the police presence in the city and pushed for the development of the airport. However, he was unable to muster the support of Atlantans and lost his re-election bid in 1940. Hartsfield’s defeat prompted Ivan Allen, then director of the state Chamber of Commerce, and Grace Towns Hamilton, head of the Urban League, to push for an alliance between Atlanta businessmen and Black intellectuals.
The business community then stepped up its role in the civil rights struggle. For example, after Martin Luther King won the Nobel Prize in 1964, Atlantans organized a dinner at the Dinkler Plaza Hotel to celebrate his achievement. When social conservatives ignored the rally, Coca-Cola leaders successfully rallied Atlanta businesspeople 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,” observed Young. “And that’s what made Atlanta work.”
Dylan Croll is a journalist and researcher at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @CrollonPatrol.
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