My older brother Mike came home unexpectedly early from college in 1970. His classmates had just shut Princeton down – a show of solidarity with student protests spreading across America.
Mike sported sideburns, flared jeans, flashed an occasional peace sign and said, “Right on” a lot. He also had a political assignment: help Andrew Young win back Atlanta’s congressional seat from a first-term Republican. Mike tried recruiting seniors at my high school, then started in on me. So I joined my – and Andy’s – first political campaign. I was finishing up 8th grade.
Our dad wasn’t happy about any of it. Continue reading …
Mike, like America, had changed a good bit that spring of 1970. Two years earlier, he graduated from Georgetown Prep as president of his class and an all-star fullback. Two years later, following the election of Richard Nixon, two more years of the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy, the National Guard’s murder of four student protesters at Kent State and the release of the movie “Woodstock” … let’s just say, things had shifted.
Dad liked to invoke guilt a lot, reminding Mike he had sold his land along Riverside Drive in Sandy Springs to invest in two things: the stock market, which quickly went into recession, and Mike’s college tuition at Princeton. When Dad saw the university close and Mike returning home before exams, let’s just say he wasn’t feeling the love from either investment.
Mike put on his “Think Young” campaign button, a nice suit and went to speak to Dr. William Pressly, the founding headmaster of my high school, Westminster, and somehow charmed him into letting Mike speak to the senior class. I was allowed to attend. Mike shared a quick look into what was happening across college campuses, how Andrew Young was a progressive candidate deserving of their support and their time – that summer and beyond. The seniors, two days before they walked off campus for the last time, didn’t seem convinced.
Dr. Pressly was impressed enough to spontaneously invite Mike to lunch that day at The 10 Club, a private gathering of 10 Atlanta leaders who quietly met at the private downtown Commerce Club to discuss the city’s business and – on that day at least – what to expect from their sons and daughters returning from college that spring.
Mike left very impressed by the prominent city leaders and CEOs in The 10 Club and even more impressed how open-minded they were to hearing directly from a student fresh from the campus protest scene.
When the first “Think Young” sign went up in our parents’ yard, the same house on Rivers Road in which Mike and his wife Martiele now live, it did not go unnoticed. Those same neighbors raised more than eyebrows when Mike knocked on their door, canvassing, asking their political leanings, filling out cards, offering brochures about Andy, wondering if they needed a ride to the polls. All said, the Rivers Road crowd was much more gracious than others Mike and I called on in other parts of town.
A few days later, Mike wore his “Think Young” campaign button to our dentist, Frank Millians, for his annual checkup. Dr. Millians took a look at the campaign button, looked briefly at his teeth and said, “You have a cavity,” and began drilling on Mike’s teeth. Mike demanded Novacaine and got a small dose, after which Dr. Millians began to drill and offer a conservative tirade about how Andrew Young was too liberal for our district. Mike, not convinced he had a cavity in the first place, never went back to Dr. Millians.
I was game to help Mike campaign, even after we played tennis at Westminster and I slipped on a puddle, breaking my arm. The next week, my left arm in a cast, I began my summer working for Andy Young’s first congressional campaign. You can read more about that experience, including when a bomb blew through our Northside (what they call Buckhead now) campaign office wall in my previous blog: 1970 Summer campaign of Andrew Young.
That summer, the movie “Woodstock” debuted, with its glorious three-hour look into the 1969 summer rock festival, with its famous rock-and-roll soundtrack and 400,000 skinny hippies talking all kinds of political and cultural heresy. Somehow I talked Gwynie Moran (now Dennard), a sweet, unsuspecting classmate who lived a couple of blocks away, to go on a date with me, walk to the Peachtree Battle “Mini-Cinema” and see the movie. It was our last date.
Several nights that early summer, I’d return home to find Mike and Dad at the dinner table alone – Mom having gotten too frustrated and deciding to retire to her bedroom to read – arguing over a National Geographic map of Southeast Asia. Dad, another vodka and tonic dripping on his placemat, was growling, pointing to Vietnam while Mike was pointing to Cambodia and Laos, where American bombers had just expanded the war with secret bombings. Neither won their arguments.
Mike shared a lot of his philosophy with me that summer. I’m not sure I’ve ventured far away from my political beliefs that were forming then. I can’t say the same for his. I remember that summer of 1970, he also promised me three things that he would never do: vote Republican, marry a Southern girl or join the Piedmont Driving Club. Within a few years, he had done all three.
That fall, Mike returned to Princeton and eventually graduated magna cum laude and has pursued a successful law career at Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers. I left Westminster that fall, going to Georgetown Prep, a boarding school outside Washington, D.C.
On Election Night, November 3, 1970, at his Atlanta election headquarters, Andy shed a tear as he stepped away from the microphone, having just conceded the election to incumbent Republican Fletcher Thompson. (See photo above. Note: Andy would win the seat two years later.)
That same night, 600 miles north, as I stayed up after hours in my dorm room, twisting the dial on my AM radio, occasionally catching fragments of WSB-AM’s campaign coverage, I shed a tear as well.
If you enjoyed this retrospective of the summer of 1970, be sure to read Chris Schroder’s previous column on the same summer, recalling an unforgettable camp counselor and how he almost attended the Atlanta Pop Festival to see the Allman Brothers. You can enjoy it at this link.