Manchester Magazine Fall 2017 - Page 23

MU| F e a t u r e s I n the Marion, Ala., childhood of Jean Childs ’54 Young, African-Americans drank from separate drinking fountains, used separate restrooms, watched movies from the balcony, and weren’t allowed to eat their ice cream inside the drugstore. Only five were registered to vote. The corrosive effects of that early discrimination steeled Jean’s resolve to work for change, join her husband Andrew Young in the civil rights movement, and advocate for human rights and children’s welfare. To honor her, Manchester is building the Jean Childs Young Intercultural Center to celebrate the diversity and inclusion that was denied her in the Jim Crow South. Jean Childs was born on July 1, 1933, the youngest of five children. Her father operated a grocery and candy store in Marion and her mother taught in a one-room segregated school. As a child, Jean dreamed of becoming a lawyer or doctor, but she opted for teaching because it was something she could do in the South. She and her older sisters, Norma Childs ’48 dePaur and Cora Childs ’51 Moore, as well as Coretta Scott King, attended Lincoln High School in Marion, operated by the American Missionary Association. The Childs family supported the efforts of Lincoln staff member Frances Smith ’39 Thomas, (story on Page 44) who encouraged the three sisters to head north and enroll at her alma mater, Manchester College. As a Manchester student, Jean participated in the Women’s Athletic Association, Student Ministers, the International Club and the Skate Club. As a junior, she was elected May Queen. In the summer of 1952 Jean met Andrew while he was a summer pastor at the First Congregational Church in Marion. He had meals with Jean’s parents and was intrigued when he picked up her Bible and noticed she had underlined many of his own favorite passages. They began dating, and the summer before her senior year Jean went to Europe with Andrew and Norma and participated in a Brethren Volunteer Service work camp. In June 1954, shortly after her graduation, Jean married Andrew, who would become a close friend and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Andrew was at King’s side when he spoke at Manchester on Feb. 1, 1968, and when King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Beginning in 1972, Andrew served three terms in Congress and was U.N. ambassador during the Carter Administration before serving two terms as Atlanta’s mayor. Jean’s life was no less remarkable but, unlike her high-profile husband, she worked quietly and behind the scenes. She earned her master’s degree at Queens College, N.Y., and taught school in Connecticut and Georgia. She authored “Bridging the Gap,” a preschool manual for parents. She was the United States chair for the International Year of the Child and was active in the League of Women Voters, the Coalition of Black Women in Atlanta, the YWCA, NAACP, Red Cross and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. in 1980. The mother of four – Andrea, Paula, Lisa and Bo – she died of cancer in 1994 at the age of 61. “I’d like to think that my part in the civil rights movement made some difference in the quality of lives, maybe diminished some misery and injustice,” she told Margaret McManus, special to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, in a story published on July 30, 1978. “I don’t want to feel I’ve lived in vain, without any purpose. I want to count for something.” And count she did through the many lives she touched. In President Dave McFadden’s copy of Andrew Young’s book, An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America, Andrew wrote, “Much of this story is the result of Jean’s study at Manchester. I doubt that it could have happened if I’d married anyone else.” By Melinda Lantz ’81 Throughout the civil rights movement, volunteers enjoyed the Youngs’ hospitality and Jean’s home-cooked meals. She was active in the movement, too, participating in the 1961 lunch counter boycott in Atlanta, the 1963 March on Washington, the 1964 marches in St. Augustine, Fla., the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, and the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. As an educator and children’s advocate, she established the Atlanta Task Force on Education, served as the co-founder of the Atlanta-Fulton Commission on Children and Youth, and helped develop Atlanta Metropolitan College. Jean Childs ’54 Young (left) gets a kiss from her husband, Andrew Young, in May 1980 when she was Commencement speaker and received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater. Above, Jean as Manchester’s May Queen in the early 1950s. Jean served on the MU Board of Trustees in the 1970s, and received an honorary doctorate Manchester | 23