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Andrew Young reflects on 'Selma'




Andrew Young, Chair, Andrew J. Young Foundation (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Andrew Young, Chair, Andrew J. Young Foundation (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/AP

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The film "Selma" looks back at the time Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spent in the Alabama town of Selma during the civil rights movement. 

Former Atlanta mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young was a friend of Dr. King's, and is depicted in the film. He joined host Alex Cohen to reflect on that time, and how it measures up with his own experience.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

Remind us about the role that you played in the Selma to Montgomery march.

"I was the vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in those days, and that meant that I was the one who carried out Dr. King's orders, and it meant that I accompanied him on most of his meetings, and several of them with President Johnson."

When you heard that a major motion film was being made about this chapter in history, what did you first feel about that?

"Well, I felt good about it until I read the first script. The first couple of scripts were written by British writers that had little to no understanding of the civil rights movement. They were more fiction than fact. When I finally got the script that Ava DuVernay did, I thought it was moving very much in the right direction."

Take us back to that moment when you first got to see 'Selma' on the big screen. What was that like for you to see history revisited in that way?

"It shocked me because I wasn't prepared for the opening scene with the four little girls [the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham]. And that was the start of what made us say we had to go on in Alabama. It's a beautiful way to start and remind us that this was not just a political campaign, this has been a lifetime struggle…I've been to the church, and I was there around the bombing, and I've heard the story, but to actually see four little girls laughing, and then suddenly having their lives quenched out, that still gets to me."

Although so much has changed within this culture, I think one of the things that was most powerful and most sad to me in watching this film was seeing how little, in some ways, things have changed.

“Well that's not quite true. What we were talking about essentially was segregation rights, which did not cost the country any money. It really improved the economy for stores to be desegregated and black people to get more jobs. The issues I think in Ferguson are more economic than they are racial. We will function better when everybody is included not only in the political and social decision-making, but also [when] everybody is a participant in the economy…democracy and free enterprise can only work together if everybody has not only access to the vote, but access to capital. Now people are just beginning to realize this. And so the movement in Ferguson, and the police violence and things, I think are symptoms of the beginning of a new movement. But I think we've made real progress."  

If there’s one thing that you would like viewers of 'Selma' to take away, especially those who were not alive during this time, what would that be?

"That by working together and being able to disagree without being disagreeable, and to confront people with whom you are opposed without violence, you have a power that Gandhi called truth force. That is more powerful than any name-calling, or any brick-throwing, or any kind of violence you can drum up."

To listen to the full interview, click the button under “Listen Now” above.