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‘More than its name implied’

Ambassador Young joins us in our look back

50 YOUNG Andrew Edit Web
Photo credit: Special to Creative Loafing

It would be hard to imagine Atlanta without Creative Loafing . After half a century, it is a part of the DNA of our remarkable city.

I don’t think I’m alone in always having thought of Creative Loafing as a sort of successor to that wonderful old hippie newspaper, The Great Speckled Bird. The two publications were never actually related, but both were a little funky and both filled a void — Creative Loafing , obviously for much longer now. Both also were products of that very memorable era.

Launched in 1972, Creative Loafing was largely a youth newspaper, a free weekly in the time of “free love and nickel vodka.” That was the same year I became the first African American elected to represent Georgia in Congress since Reconstruction (and just four years after Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated).

Nothing happens in Congress on Mondays or Fridays, so I was in Washington from Tuesday to Thursday, but home every weekend. I’d see Creative Loafing everywhere. I remember picking it up and I remember the boxes on sidewalks all over town.

I don’t know how to prove this, but I am convinced the hippie culture contributed directly to a great many things we now take for granted, including San Francisco’s high-tech boom. When he was in high school, Steve Jobs, for instance, used to hang out with the poets and artists like Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Joan Baez at City Lights Bookstore, and he wrote in his autobiography how that inspired him.  I was interested because my church helped establish that famous bookstore, originally as a ministry aimed at young people. The United Church of Christ bought the warehouse that became City Lights, and I was curious enough to travel out there once, just to have the experience.

Atlanta, meanwhile, was on the verge of becoming America’s dream city. There was an explosion of talent here, from all over the world, and nobody could quite keep up with it, but Creative Loafing gave almost everybody and anybody a chance to have their say.

I was returned to Congress for a third term when Jimmy Carter named me his ambassador to the United Nations, but it wasn’t until sometime after I returned home and became Atlanta’s mayor that I started to notice Creative Loafing had become something more than its name implied.

People started asking if I’d seen this or that in Creative Loafing . I often hadn’t — partly because I was traveling quite a lot, especially outside the country. Every now and then, someone on my staff would put a copy under my nose, and I do recall being criticized for racking up too many frequent flier miles when there were potholes that needed filling.

In truth, Maynard Jackson had left Atlanta in very good shape. My chief of staff, Shirley Franklin, was running the day-to-day business long before she herself became mayor, and the potholes were being filled. It wasn’t obvious what I was up to, but we lured 1,100 companies to relocate their headquarters to Georgia, created over a million new jobs, and brought in $70 billion in direct foreign investment.

The coverage of my administration was sometimes aggressive, and that’s ok. If I’d ever worried what anybody was going to say about me, I wouldn’t have accomplished much of anything in my 90 years — and I certainly wouldn’t ever have gotten mixed up in the Civil Rights movement with Dr. King.

Creative Loafing reporter Anne Corwin, a product of Atlanta’s hippie culture if ever there was one, was a fixture at City Hall in the late ‘8Os and never failed to show up for press conferences, armed with tough questions — usually about the homeless and other voiceless constituents she cared about greatly.

And that’s the important role of an alternative newspaper. We are fortunate to have the Cox family and a daily paper like the AJC, but it has always represented the establishment, all the way back to Ralph McGill. Other voices need to be heard. I never thought of Creative Loafing as competing with the AJC, but as complimenting it by providing that platform.

Fredrick Allen, the former AJC political columnist, reminded me just the other day of a story in which Creative Loafing ended up being involved.

Rick was part of a mass exodus of longtime AJC reporters during an unfortunate regime change in the late 1980s. Under a new editor, the daily paper was running front page stories containing false allegations about me. Rick confirmed the truth — through two independent sources — and wrote a column “exonerating” me. But the editors refused to print it because it contradicted the news reporters, Kathy Scruggs and W. Stevens Ricks.

So, Rick Allen resigned in protest (and others would follow). But someone else leaked his spiked column to Creative Loafing , which reported the entire fiasco. As Dr. King often quoted William Cullen Bryant, “Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again.”

And that’s the way it was for awhile. Whenever the AJC failed to run a story, Creative Loafing immediately would pick it up and get the word out to its many readers. I think that helped keep the AJC on its toes, even after another change in newsroom management just a couple years later.

Creative Loafing had become the largest free weekly newspaper in the country, and an upstart powerhouse. I congratulate all those responsible for its many years of trials, tribulations, and success. —CL—