At the Portrait Gallery: The Civil Rights Legend Ambassador Andrew Young

Andrew Young
Andrew Young Wikimedia Commons

Ambassador Andrew Young has led a distinguished career, filled with firsts. A graduate of Howard University and Hartford Theological Seminary, Young was the first black congressman from the Deep South elected since reconstruction and the first black U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Now, the civil rights luminary will enjoy another first, as his portrait graces the walls of the National Portrait Gallery as part of "The Struggle for Justice" collection.

"I’m awestruck by the whole notion that a portrait of mine would hang in the National Portrait Gallery alongside of people like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall," Young says. "In fact, I think I know most of the people in that hall of struggle and it’s just humbling for the Smithsonian, and particularly Jack Watson, to have brought my portrait there."

Even more surprising is the fact that Ambassador Young almost didn't sit for the portrait, painted by Ross R. Rossin (born Rossin Raytchev Raykov in Bulgaria in 1964), at all. According to Young, he was visiting Rossin and admiring the portraits the artist had painted of Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and even Jesus, when Rossin pulled out a little bench for Young to sit on and began snapping pictures. "Later on he called me and asked when I could come back and see the preliminary work that he'd done," Young says. " said, 'I'm not finished but I wanted to see you again in the presence of this painting because I tried to paint not your picture, but to see into your soul.'" Both Young and his wife, Carolyn, were amazed.

"I think there's something about his perception of people that is more than a usual portrait," Young says. "It has a quality of revealing aspects of your personality and your spirit that might not jump out at you in some pictures and in some portraits."

Young, former mayor of Atlanta and the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom among many other honors, now joins a cadre of 19th- and 20th-century icons who fought for the civil rights of all people, including: Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, woman's rights advocate Elizabeth Cady Stanton, singer Marian Anderson, the United Farm Workers organizer César Chávez, and Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as well as Young's close associate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ambassador Young, who continues to work to develop leaders and advance the cause of civil rights through the work of the Andrew Young Foundation, is the author of the recent book Walk in My Shoes: Conversations between a Civil Rights Legend and His Godson on the Journey.

See the portrait, now on permanent display, at the National Portrait Galley's "The Struggle for Justice." Visit the exhibition website for additional videos, information, web extras and to see the featured portraits.

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