ATLANTA — Atlanta businessman Charles Loudermilk never tried to buy
Andrew Young’s friendship, but he doesn’t mind paying for it now.
Loudermilk is honoring the unlikely friendship forged two decades ago between the white, conservative Republican entrepreneur and the civil rights icon who served as mayor of Atlanta during the 1980s with a tribute that includes an 8-foot bronze statue of Young.
The $1.5 million project, bankrolled by Loudermilk, was unveiled Monday as part of an homage to the civil rights icon who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. as a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Four years in the making, the tribute is a gift of gratitude from Loudermilk, who supported Young in his bid for mayor of Atlanta. It will also honor the intersection of business, race and politics in Atlanta at the junction of three downtown streets — including one that bears the name of the former congressman and United Nations ambassador, for whom the Georgia State University School of Policy Studies is also named.
“It’s time that Andrew got recognized for many years to come,” Loudermilk said. “This is there, and I hope it’ll be there for centuries.”
Unlike a street or a building, which can change names frequently in Atlanta, organizers said this tribute to Young is unique.
“There’s very few places I can think of where you can be inspired by paying tribute to someone,” said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, the organization that has managed the tribute. “It was important to locate this in a place that is very visible so that people will be able to see it, use it and be inspired by it in the years to come.”
The tribute at Walton Spring Park — a circular plaza which features an obelisk, five engraved medallions, and 8-foot-6-inch bronze statute — pays homage to the theological, social, political and cultural contributions of Ambassador Andrew Young. The granite wall around the plaza features five glass panels inscribed with quotations by Young.
Sculpture artist Curtis Patterson said the tribute is meant to be a reflective space.
“I kind of see this as a place, not just a piece,” he said.
Commuters can take a moment in traffic to reflect on a quote from Young, or admire the obelisk. And tourists and Atlanta natives alike can pose alongside the towering rendering of Young against the city’s backdrop — an image organizers hope will become as iconic as other Atlanta landmarks like Martin Luther King Jr.’s tomb at The King Center or the Georgia Aquarium.
When the tribute made its unofficial debut earlier this month, several passers-by had just that instinct, said Harris.
“People came by and let Andy hold their coat and their bags and got their picture [taken] with him,” he said. “It’s sort of predictable, but that’s what you do with something like that. You get your little time with him.”
Trying to figure out exactly where to put the tribute presented a challenge. Because Young’s legacy extended far beyond the civil rights movement, so Auburn Avenue wasn’t a fit. And Young was bigger than the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, so Centennial Olympic Park wouldn’t do. He had been mayor, but he was too big to be near City Hall. His role as a statesman and international diplomat meant that the state capitol wasn’t quite right, either.
The location at the corner of Spring Street and Andrew Young International Boulevard is not far from Young’s offices at GoodWorks International, where he now focuses on economic opportunities between the U.S. and African and Caribbean countries.
Robinson said the site at Walton Spring Park is meant to reflect Young’s prominence and impact on the city he helped define.
“All of his roles speak to the ability of Andy Young to transcend a particular community,” Robinson said. “That’s what this site symbolizes. It’s accessible to everyone. That’s Andy, accessible and important to everyone.”
Though the statue is about one-and-a-half times larger than the 5-foot, 8-inch Young, he has an open and inviting pose that seems to welcome people to the city. And Harris said he purposely was not put on a pedestal.
“He’s a man of the people,” Harris explained. “If you want to be able to see this and relate to it, we needed him to be closer to the ground. That’s why he’s down there, so the people can be with him.”
Young is already uncomfortable driving down Andrew Young International Boulevard, and he said seeing himself in bronze should be an even weirder experience.
“It doesn’t seem like that’s me,” he said. “Statues and streets are supposed to be for people who are dead. When it looks like I’m getting credit for something, I don’t know what it means.”
Still, he will sheepishly accept the honor.
“It’s his way of saying thanks, not to me, but to this city and to God,” Young said. “The people I admire most almost never got any credit.”