It is with great expectation that one approaches materials on Andrew J. Young, Jr., the outspoken US Ambassador to the United Nations, but premature biographies of public figures must be approached with guarded feelings. There was a time when biographers took their cues from a subject’s death or — at the very least — the completion of a life’s work, but biography has taken on a new meaning in this so-called “me” decade, when people are scrutinized and/or exalted in book form the moment they step into the public eye. In a sense, premature biographies are unfinished canvases, which is not to say that they can’t be both absorbing and meaningful; but for them to be that, the subject must have depth and the writer must have the intellectual equipment to discern and explore that depth, There is no evidence of these ingredients in Carl Gardner’s biography of Young.
Gardner — who, according to the blurb, attended Howard University for three years with Young — never spoke to his subject in preparation for this book; instead, he relied completely on newspaper and magazine clippings and on the books and research of other authors. The result is a dull trip that rarely takes us beyond an uncharted course of headlines, and when Gardner does seem to be going it alone, he gets hopelessly lost.
This very unofficial biography fails to explain either the why’s and wherefores of Andrew Young’s actions or the decisive factors in his political career. In one sentence, the author describes a man whose co-workers evaluated him from two diametrically opposed sides: In the civil rights days, some regarded him [Andrew Young] as one of King’s most militant advisers, while others considered him the quickest of the lieutenants to begin negotiations and work for compromises. [King himself had fondly nicknamed him Tom.] Interesting, but how did Young evoke such contrasting reactions to his personality? Gardner does not bother to explain, and one wonders if he has the capacity to do so.
In another chapter, Gardner delves into the Presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter and the considerable help he received from Young. We are told that it was Young’s network of church ministries in the South that helped Carter defeat George Wallace in the Florida and North Carolina primaries, thus eliminating the major block [Wallace] from Carter’s road to the White House. Gardner further asserts that Andrew Young’s strategy carried Carter past the Democratic power bloc in the Northeast, adding: Besides influencing the black vote, Young, in campaigning through seventeen states, was almost as important to Carter with respect to the labor and the liberal vote. The coalition had now truly flowed over its old borders and now included not only Southern whites and blacks but also labor, liberals and Northern blacks.
Having thus implied very strongly that Carter owes his presidency to Young, Gardner fails to ask the obvious questions: Why was Andrew Young offered the relatively unimportant job of U.N. Ambassador, and why did he accept a job which many black leaders consider toothless, a job Gardner says Barbara Jordan “no-noed”? Is Gardner inflating his subject’s importance? Is Andrew Young a willing pawn? Or is Andrew Young upgrading the office? You won’t find out by reading this book. Andrew Young: A Biography. by Carl Gardner 221 pp., Drake Publishers, New York — 1978, $9.95 [hard cover]