Thirty years ago this summer, thousands of American soldiers were fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. Across this country, students protesting the continued war in Vietnam had closed down dozens of universities. In Atlanta’s Piedmont Park and Midtown, hundreds of hippies were roaming around pushing drugs, counterculture posters and alternative lifestyles.
As a contrast, my life was rather simple. I had just graduated from eighth grade and was sporting a plaster cast on my broken left arm. I was looking forward to a summer of sleeping late and watching television.
My brother Michael, who had recently returned from protests at his college, suggested I volunteer in the congressional political campaign of a man who two years before had been standing on a Memphis balcony next to Martin Luther King Jr. when he was killed by an assassin’s bullet. His name was Andrew Young.
So one morning, I walked four blocks down Peachtree just past Peachtree Creek to the newly opened “Northside” branch office. I sauntered in to the storefront space and was amazed by the level of activity inside. Phones were ringing, radios were blaring, people of various ages, color, religions and geographic background were running around shouting directions to each other, stuffing envelopes, answering phones and generally ignoring me – a preppy little teenager with a cast.
I wandered to the back of the room where one guy was juggling several phone calls. “I’d like to volunteer to help,” I said. He looked me up and down and pointed to a group to his right. “Can you stuff envelopes?” he asked. “Sure,” I said. “Well they could use your help.”
The next two months, I did a little bit of everything: stuffing envelopes, answering phones, buying coffee, making copies, attending poolside political parties and even going door-to-door in countless suburban apartment complexes, canvassing curious residents about their political leanings, voting habits and interest in supporting the controversial concept of an African-American minister representing us in Washington.
I dug up old photographs in filing cabinets and adorned the bare office walls with posters, exhibits and a collection of “Think Young” bumper stickers. I even organized a few friends on a midnight jaunt to plaster my neighborhood speed limit and stop signs with bumper stickers. The next day people were calling in to complain about the illegal use of campaign materials.
One morning, I awoke to a radio news report that our office had been bombed the night before. I was stunned. I hurried down to see the open gap in the building where the hair salon next door had been. Our campaign office windows were blasted out and the walls were cracked and much of the roof had fallen inside. The fire department had pretty much drowned everything else.
I helped put up a sandwich board on the street with a sign that said, “We’re Still in Business.” The sign appeared in the newspaper the next day. Then I grabbed a broom and began sweeping the sidewalk.
Suddenly, Andrew Young walked up and two television stations began filming his reaction. Several cameras were trained on me as I swept. I felt like a media star. I found reasons to edge in behind Andy as he was filmed, talking about the “lunatic fringe” that might have been responsible for the senseless bombing.
Months later, I was surprised to find out the bomb had been arranged in an insurance scam by the salon next door. And I was greatly saddened by the loss of my candidate in the general election.
I never made any money that summer, but I had a maturing peek into the fascinating world of politics and the media at a time of great change in our city.
Photo: Congressman Andrew Young in 1970s