Andrew Young accepts the World Peace and Liberty Award from King Felipe of Spain. Photo: World Jurist Association

Former mayor and civil rights legend Andrew Young is still globetrotting at 91, three decades after he helped parlay networks built during his time as ambassador to the United Nations into an Olympic victory for Atlanta. 

Mr. Young traveled to Madrid this week to accept the World Jurist Association’s World Peace and Liberty Award for his work fostering “social, political and economic progress for oppressed people around the world.” 

He joins prior winners like Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and other luminaries in receiving the association’s highest honor, which was presented during a ceremony by Spanish King Felipe VI and Didier Reynders, the European Union’s commissioner for justice. 

In a video streamed via YouTube, Mr. Young stands to receive the award, shaking the king’s hand vigorously before being handed a microphone to deliver a sermonette on the power of faith and collaboration. Calling Martin Luther King Jr. and President Jimmy Carter two of his “best teachers,” Mr. Young said both commissioned him to travel the world in pursuit of peace.

In his standard style, Mr. Young shared stories from his time at the UN, where he worked in difficult places to push through Mr. Carter’s sometimes-controversial foreign-policy initiatives.

“We went looking for trouble, we didn’t wait,” Mr. Young said, outlining his role in in the deal to hand over the Panama Canal to Panamanian control. It hinged, Mr. Young said, on getting Caribbean leaders to help “keep Castro quiet.”

“We can get this Panama Canal things settled, but if anybody says it’s a good thing, the Senate will kill it, and if anybody says it’s a bad thing, the Communist party will kill it,” he said. “In three months, the whole issue of Panama changed, and we had the first treaty in 400 years that was in some way fair to the Panamanians.” 

He also recounted the process by which Mr. Carter brokered the Camp David Accords between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, averting war in a peace deal that still holds today. 

President and First Lady Rosalynn Carter “entered the White House believing that the world could be changed, believing that wars could end. It was the only presidency in the history of the United States that we didn’t kill anybody in the entire term of his office and no American got killed in an act of war.”

Law has been an inspiration to Mr. Young since at 9 years old a teacher took him to witness Thurgood Marshall arguing a case for equal teacher pay, quoting directly from the law books and issuing page number citations from memory. 

While he became a pastor instead of a lawyer, Mr. Young said the civil rights movement was strengthened by the backing of the legal community. He commended the jurists for continuing to fight for justice and peace, saying he believed his standing before them was due to “divine intent.” 

“The peace for which you and I are working is not beyond our reach. It’s right within our grasp. You might have to risk your life, you might have to let people think you’re crazy, because when you believe that the earth makes sense, or that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, and when you act that way — it’s amazing that you come in line with the forces of the universe.” 

See the full video here.

Learn more about the award and the World Jurist Association (Spanish) here 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...