By Ambassador Andrew Young
Interview by Publisher Cynthia Blandford, Transcribed by Simeon Nunnally
You know, I talked to Former President Jimmy Carter a few days ago just to check on him. I had not talk to anybody in a long time but, they said that he and Rosalynn were with their son Chip. Chip took them on a ride around the streets of Plains, Georgia, in their wheelchairs because they like to get out of the house. They were waving at people and smiling, and you know, they really are the people’s people. Plains is a little town of a couple of hundred people where the Former President grew up, and that is where he wants to stay. He has, I am sure at one time or another, known everybody in town by name.
As it relates to humanity, I don’t know any other person of any color, of any nation, or of any race, that has been more down to earth and more available to serve humanity from top to bottom, than Former President Jimmy Carter. He has probably met more Heads of State and almost every week while he was in office, he had a different Head of State come into the White House because he had a feeling that diplomacy had to be personal. He invited people to the White House and more people came from Africa than I think anywhere else in the world. Of course, we have more countries in Africa but, he had a commitment to move Africa beyond where we were in the post-colonial era.
When we had not really resolved the questions of Zimbabwe or Namibia or of South Africa, when he swore me in as Ambassador to the United Nations, he gave me a little handwritten note. He said I want you to go to Africa, meet with as many African leaders as possible and, ask them what they expect of this Administration and how we might help them. I had never had anybody put it quite that bluntly but, I said when do you want me to do this? He said as soon as you can. I said well the State Department said they don’t have any plane to take me to Africa and, he said don’t worry about that, I’ll provide the plane. During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet with twenty-two African Heads of State on that one trip.
When I met Former President Jimmy Carter, he was in the running for Governor, and I had not spent much time with him. I bumped into the Former President one day at a local restaurant in Plaines, Georgia. What I remember was he was going around shaking hands with just about everybody in the dining room, and then he headed to the kitchen. I said to one of his assistants, what is he doing back there? I must confess, whenever you see a major politician going into a kitchen, I think of Robert Kennedy. So, I was not that anxious to follow him in the kitchen, except that he went through there and spoke to each and every one of the cooks and the people who were washing dishes. When I went up to meet him, he said just a minute. He said all of these votes count just like yours. His focus was on the individual voter, wherever they may have been, and he put a great deal of emphasis on getting people out to vote and to register. In fact, later on we were thinking that it was difficult to get people to register, and the Former President came up with an idea. He said, you know I can issue an Executive Order and every high school principal could become a voter registrar so that nobody could graduate from a Georgia high school without being a registered voter. I said to the Former President, that is a wonderful idea! The Former President did it, and principals registered everybody graduating from high school and that was, I think, the beginning of a real people’s revolution in Georgia politics, which has come a long way.
As I think fondly of Former President Jimmy Carter, I have known four Nobel Peace Prize winners in my lifetime in addition to the Former President including Bishop Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr., and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela. I’ve been blessed to know that these great people were some of the easiest people to get along with. These individuals were a lot of fun to be around, and they didn’t take themselves too seriously, but they took the problems of the world seriously. With every one of those Nobel Peace Prize winners I knew, their wives were equally as important. In fact, I have said that if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Mandela keeping the dream alive and coming over to the United States and hooking up with Mrs. Coretta Scott King, we would have had a hard time keeping the South African struggle going with Nelson Mandela in jail. So, there have always been not only the Nobel Peace Prize winners but their wives behind the scenes who probably have done more work and made more of a contribution than anybody can imagine.
As I think of a tribute to the Former President, I would like to say that last Sunday was the Sunday after Easter and it’s a Sunday that reminds us that there is no end to our lives. That death is not an end to our reality, our purpose or our blessings. When I think of the blessings that I have received from people like Former President Jimmy Carter, it was a long shot. I mean he knew me, but nobody knew who I was.
The Former President sent me to the United Nations to represent the United States and with quite a bit of confidence. Fortunately, I had been with Martin Luther King, Jr. and I had worked with the leaders of Nigeria, Tanzania and Liberia. Still, going as a tourist is one thing , yet going with the power of the United States of America, was something else. With permission to give the Presidents of African Countries a direct line to President Carter, it put me and Africa in a new relationship with the United States. The same thing almost happened with Panama. With the friendships of the Panamanians and the people of the West Indies, we were able to get a treaty with Panama that was approved by the United States Senate. It has been said that this agreement was one of the most controversial free agreements that this nation had made. I was also involved in that agreement with Former President Carter and the same thing sort of happened with Egypt and Israel. The people said it was impossible, yet not a single Israeli has been killed by an Egyptian nor has a single Egyptian been killed by an Israeli, since that treaty was signed.
The impact that former President Carter and Rosalynn Carter had on the world was also experienced when Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter took my first wife, Jean Young, on a tour of children in refugee camps when Jean was asked to head the International Year of the Child. They were both country girls where they could have been quiet, at home milking the cows or feeding chickens or just walking in the sand barefooted. Both First Ladies traveled around the world meeting with women and children and stressing their importance to the development of the rest of the world.