Jean Childs Young was the first lady of Atlanta during the mayoral terms of her husband, Andrew Young, in the 1980s and was known nationally and internationally as an educator and advocate for children’s rights.
The youngest of five children, Young was born on July 1, 1933, in Marion, Alabama, to Idella and Norman Childs. Her mother was a teacher and seamstress, and her father was a baker and candy maker. After graduating from Lincoln Normal School in 1950, she found that options for African Americans, and especially women, were limited. Though interested in studying law, she instead pursued a teaching career and attended Manchester College in Indiana, where in 1953 she became the first African American elected “May Queen.” In 1954, the same year she married Andrew Young, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, and in 1961 she received a master’s degree in education from Queens College in New York City. The Youngs eventually had four children: Andrea, Lisa, Paula, and Andrew Jackson “Bo” III.
Young devoted much of her life to teaching and to promoting the benefits of education, especially literacy. She taught elementary school in Thomasville, Georgia, and Hartford, Connecticut, before teaching in Atlanta at Whitefoord and Slaton elementary schools (1962-72). She also served as a coordinator of elementary and preschool curriculum for the Atlanta public schools and wrote “Bridging the Gap: Home and School” (1970), a guide for parents on how to continue children’s classroom learning in the home. Additionally, Young became a lead teacher in the Teacher Corps, a program that, as part of U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, prepared teachers for assignments in low-income and disadvantaged elementary schools.
In recognition of her contributions to Atlanta education, Young was selected to help establish Atlanta Junior College (later Atlanta Metropolitan State
Young’s career as an advocate for children’s rights extended far beyond the classroom, and U.S. president Jimmy Carter appointed her to chair the 1979 International Year of the Child. The program commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and more than 100 countries participated.
In Atlanta Young cofounded with Lucy Vance the Atlanta/Fulton Commission on Children and Youth, which sponsored the program “Kids 4 a Change.” She also served on the boards of several national and state organizations devoted to the well-being of children, including the Children’s Defense Fund and UNICEF.
Community and Civic Activities
During the civil rights movement, Young developed curriculum for the Citizenship Schools of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and participated in voter registrations and marches, including the March on Washington in 1963, the march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, and the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. When she was not able to travel, Young opened her family’s home to members of the movement, from student volunteers to leaders. She picketed Rich’s Department Store in Atlanta and applied along with the families of Ralph David Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr. for their children to attend not-yet-desegregated private schools.
During her husband’s many political campaigns for office, Young campaigned with and for him. She started “Women for Andrew Young,” the first local campaign geared toward women, during his first congressional campaign in 1970, and the organization regrouped during his 1990 gubernatorial campaign. She was also active in the League of Women Voters and in the state and national levels of the Federation of Democratic Women, and she advocated for the Equal Rights Amendment. Young served as an honorary trustee for Georgia Women of Achievement, and in 1983 she was honored as Georgia’s Democratic Woman of the Year. In honor of her contributions to the movement, Young’s footstep was added in 2007 to the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta.
Young died of cancer in Atlanta on September 16, 1994. Her papers are housed at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History in the Sweet Auburn district of Atlanta.