Aug. 18, 2006 — -- Andrew Young, a former ally of Martin Luther King Jr. and a central figure in the civil rights movement, was recently hired by a Wal-Mart support group to improve the image of the company. But he resigned Thursday night from that post after making racially insensitive remarks about Jews, Arabs and Koreans "overcharging us, selling us stale bread, and bad meat, and wilted vegetables."
When asked if Wal-Mart meant the death of mom-and-pop stores, Young told the Los Angeles Sentinel, "They ran the mom-and-pop stores out of my neighborhood, but you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us, selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables.
"First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs. Very few black people own these stores," Young said.
Young, a two-term mayor of Atlanta, a former ambassador to the United Nations and a three-term congressman from the 5th District of Georgia, publicly issued a retraction and an apology Thursday night for his racially insensitive comments, asking "forgiveness of those I have offended" with comments that "run contrary to everything I have dedicated my life to."
Young, who is credited with coining the phrase, "You have to expect that if you cuss out the world, the world is going to cuss back," resigned from Working Families for Wal-Mart an hour after issuing the apology.
"I took on the position of chairman of Working Families for Wal-Mart because I believe so strongly in the good that Wal-Mart does to lift up the lives of the working poor," Young said in a statement to The Associated Press. "The last thing I would want to do would be to distract from that good. Therefore, effective immediately, I am resigning the chairmanship of Working Families for Wal-Mart."
Wal-Mart responded rapidly, apologizing for Young's statements and admonishing him.
"We were ... dismayed that they would come from someone who has worked so hard for so many years for equal rights in this country. Ambassador Young has done the right thing to apologize and to ask for a retraction. We also support his decision to resign," company spokeswoman Mona Williams said.
When Young took the position as chairman on Feb. 27, he received significant criticism from union organizers, with whom he has traditionally aligned himself. Working Families for Wal-Mart was formed to rebut criticism from groups such as Wal-Mart Watch and Wake-Up Wal-Mart.
Before taking the position with the pro-Wal-Mart group, Young had been the head of GoodWorks International, a group that matches businesses with government to resolve global issues. Wal-Mart hired the group to help with promotional work.
Despite the apology, civil rights groups expressed their displeasure with Young's comments.
"Andrew Young should know better than to resort to derogatory ethnic stereotypes about Korean store owners in black neighborhoods," said Margaret Fung, executive director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in an interview with The New York Times.
Abraham Fox, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, mourned the "hurtful" words of the former civil rights leader. "The sad part," he said, is that "even people of color are not immune from being bigoted, racist and anti-Semitic."
Criticism came from other minority groups as well. Khaled Lamada, director of outreach for the Muslim American Society, said in an interview with the Times that Young's comments to the Sentinel were "not fair" and "shame" the Muslim community.
But Young also received some support.
"I do not believe there is a bone of bigotry in Andy Young's body, and his lifelong stewardship of advocacy and witness for justice and inclusiveness render this assertion indisputable," said the Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founder and president emeritus.
"My guess is that Andy was trying so hard to run a good race on a questionable horse that he stumbled off track with his unfortunate remarks," Lowery said. "It has happened to many of us -- believe me -- when your every word is so closely scrutinized by the press."
Young's tenure in the public eye has been fraught with controversy.
He was forced to resign as ambassador to the United Nations in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter after attending, and then lying about, a meeting with a representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The PLO was considered a terrorist group at the time, and Young had been forbibben from meeting with the group's representative.
In 1984, when he was the mayor of Atlanta, he made headlines again when he referred to the people behind then presidential candidate Walter Mondale's campaign as "smart-ass white boys."