First things first: former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young Jr. signaled exactly zero – ZERO – support for President Donald Trump’s remarks disparaging Haiti and Africa as “shithole” countries during recent talks on immigration.
Instead he offered a learned and dispassionate assessment of Haiti’s history and its immeasurable contributions to the United States whilst throwing a little shade, as the kids say, the president’s way. He is a student of and a product of history he doubts the president grasps.
“Because I grew up in New Orleans, I have had an appreciation for the role Haiti played in helping the United States stay together,” Young said during a Friday afternoon interview. “The president? I wouldn’t expect him to know that.”
Young was born in New Orleans to Daisy and Andrew Jackson Young Sr. His grandfather named his father in honor of Gen. Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans and later a United States president.
Preceding the 1815 victory in New Orleans was the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, propelled by the successful slave revolution in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, as Haiti was then called.
“The US never appreciated” the young island nation’s role in the United States’ independence, Young said.
As commander, Jackson issued a call for black troops in 1814, promising freedom to those who enlisted.
“My grandfather was born in 1860 and I don’t have any recollection of his being a slave,” Young said. “He was born free and was a landowner. I attribute that to what Andrew Jackson did in protecting New Orleans.”
Young’s comments regarding Trump’s choice of words to describe Haiti and Africa were withering, and he pointed out that Haiti’s troubles bear America’s fingerprints.
“Haiti is a shithole,” he said, echoing the president’s widely disparaged remarks – in an entirely different take. “But it’s largely because the French and the Europeans resented they were defeated there. Haiti has been neglected. It’s also been the victim of hurricanes and earthquakes. We have helped, but never enough to get them on their feet.”
Young does not single out Trump in his assessment of America’s failures to assist or understand Haiti.
“That’s been typical of our leadership. It’s not just him,” he said. “We have not been the global leader we should have been, except under President Carter’s time. We have to understand the world if we’re going to lead it.”
With the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday approaching, Young had tender remembrances of his friend, mentor and colleague.
“The fact that we are still celebrating and probably more people know about him more than when he was he alive lets me know that he is still very much spiritually alive,” Young said of King. “He pervades everything I do. He’s sort of like one of our founding fathers.”
Young feels that we are moving toward King’s vision of a nation where the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners could sit down at the table of brotherhood.
“It’s happened in our schools, it’s happened in our workplaces, it’s certainly happening in our sports world,” Young said. ‘It’s even happening in our churches.”
The challenge remains in tackling poverty, he said: “We have long way to go on poverty.”
He also mused at how much the world has changed geopolitically since he was a child.
“When I was growing up I had to eat everything on my plate because of ‘all the starving children in China.’ Now we’re in debt to China,” he said. “The world is changing so fast. Before we knew it the economy has gone global.”