Civil rights activist Andrew Young reflects on Selma March

Civil rights activist Andrew Young reflects on Selma March

(WTVM) - Events in Selma, Ala. kick off Thursday leading up to the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the historic day known as "Bloody Sunday."

WTVM and Steve Crump from our sister station sat down with one of the trailblazers of the civil rights movement, Andrew Young.

The former United Nations Ambassador and Atlanta mayor gave us some insight on his experience during the Selma marches.

In his home in Atlanta, Young has walls of pictures that tell the story of his life as a civil rights icon.  

He's been in the forefront of the struggle for equality, helping lead the way on many of this country's freedom footprints, including the Selma march. 

"I was in the back of the line when I went over there and I realized that there was this whole crowd of policemen," Young said. "Called Dr. King and I said 'they're not going to let us march.'" 

About 600 people began the 50-mile march from Selma to the Alabama state capital in Montgomery on March 7, 1965 to protest discrimination that prevented blacks from voting. 

But as the marchers descended to the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state troopers used brutal force and tear gas to push them back.

"Those that who were falling and hurting we were trying to get them into ambulances to get them back to the church," Young said. "Those who were just suffering from tear gas they had some towels and things to wipe their face." 

Now 50 years later, the Oscar-nominated film "Selma" is being used as a reminder to all, and as an introduction of history to another generation.  

The march, which became known as Bloody Sunday, moved the nation to pass the Landmark Voting Rights Act which mandated federal oversight over elections in states with histories of discrimination.

"The passage of the Voting Rights Act was a very important victory," Young said. 

It's one of many victories he's seen in his lifetime. 

Born on March 12, 1932, in New Orleans, La., Young became active in the Civil Rights Movement, working with Dr.King in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Georgia Congressman John Lewis with the SNCC. 

In 1964, he became the SCLC's executive director. In this position, he helped draw up the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

He was with King in Memphis, Tenn. on April 4, 1968, the day of King's assassination.

"He always said 'look you're gonna die. Everybody's gonna die and you don't have anything to say about when you're going to die. You don't have anything to say about how you're going to die. The only thing you can decide is what is it you give your life for.'" 

Over the years, Young has given his life to service. He served in Congress, was the first African-American ambassador to the United Nations and became mayor of Atlanta in 1981. In that same year, he was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Since leaving political office on Jan. 2, 1990, Young has founded or served in a large number of organizations focused on public policy and international relations, with a special focus on Africa. 

"Try to find a way to stay in tune with God's purpose for your life and everything's going to work out fine," Young said. "It's not going to always be easy, but you'll always overcome." 

A message from a politician, pastor and protester who helped change the racial landscape in the south and the nation.

WTVM is sending a crew down to Selma for the historic event over the weekend. Be sure to tune in online and on-air for complete coverage.

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