|Education for all Americans is the key to the country’s future prosperity, former Atlanta mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young said at the annual Mary Frances Early Lecture April 6 in the Chapel.
He spoke on “Securing the Blessings of Liberty,” a phrase mentioned in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, and a concept that he said has worn away from the notion of Georgia government.
The state was founded by people wholly devoted to public education, Young said. That’s why UGA is the nation’s first state-chartered institution of higher learning.
“A few of the pilgrims found that New England was too cold and so they made it down to Midway, Georgia, and the first thing they did was to think about founding a higher education system in Georgia,” he said. “The commitment of our founding fathers was to an educated populace, and they felt that to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity that we had to have an educated people.”
But as times wore on, the U.S. economy weakened as America was removed from the gold standard and its prosperity floundered, which meant less tax dollars went to schools.
“There was a shift in the values of our nation, from knowledge and service and promoting the general welfare,” he said. “I’ve got sense enough to know that when we quit paying taxes and cut back on our school budgets we have more dropouts.
“And because we have more dropouts, we have more crime. And now I can’t leave home without putting in an alarm system,” he added. “Then the alarm system wasn’t good enough because we have mandatory sentences and we put all these people in jail in ’96, ’97 and ’98 and then 10 years later they all got out, and so I had to go and put up a fence. And still in my neighborhood, which is upper-middle class black Atlanta, my wife is afraid to go to the grocery store at 9 o’clock at night. Now that’s an education problem, but it starts with the economy.”
He encouraged Georgians to once again blaze trails in public education by renewing their commitment to teaching all students—of all races, from all regions and of all sexes—because the next Mary Frances Early may be anywhere.
“The quality of life in small town Georgia is perhaps the best in the world. The only thing we need is good education to attract business and grow our economy,” he said. “So I say to you, continue the tradition of Mary France Early, she is a genius, but she is really one among many. We have genius that we’re sending to Reidsville [State Prison]. We have a genius that is fighting itself. We have genius that is going to waste in Georgia. And once we get our education system, our healthcare system and our economy grounded in the preamble to the Constitution, Georgia will be No. 1 again.”
The Mary Frances Early Lecture honors the first African-American graduate of UGA. Sponsored this year by the Graduate School, it has been presented annually since 2001.