A Great Man Honors Another


Gwiwon Jason Nam

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and friend/colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Andrew Young speaks to the audience gathered at Ferguson Auditorium.

Travis Hairgrove, Editor

As a large crowd of A&M-Commerce students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered outside the Hall of Languages braving the sweltering heat, the voice of student Malik Heard soared over the University Chorale, singing the words, “Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel/Sun in the sky, you know how I feel/Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel/It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me/and I’m feelin’ good.”

The lyrics to “Feeling Good,” a song made famous by Nina Simone (and later covered by several well-known recording artists), fit the tone of two special events that took place on campus last Tuesday—Civil Rights movement leader and former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young giving the last talk of this academic year’s Sam Rayburn Speaker Series and the renaming/dedication of the Hall of Languages as David Talbot Hall, named in honor of East Texas State University’s first black professor, Dr. David Arlington Talbot.

“Ambassador Young is one of the towering figures of American public life,” A&M-Commerce President Ray M. Keck said. “His work, his associations, and his memory embrace the people and events central to the last sixty years of our nation’s story. We are grateful to have him join us as we honor the life and work of Dr. David Arlington Talbot.  These two men were citizens first, putting service to others and to the nation above personal gain.”

In an interview done just before the weekend preceding the event, with KETR’s Mark Haslett and A&M-Commerce’s Vice President for Media Relations and Community Involvement Noah Nelson, Ambassador Young gave some strikingly thoughtful, nuanced responses that were frank but sensitive to different points of view when asked questions dealing with a number of issues that are very much on the minds of a lot of millennials today, such as race relations in the U.S. and ‘fake news.’

For example, when asked about what societal goals would be worthy causes for millennials to take on as a generation, he responded with, “When Dr. King began the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the New Orleans about 1957, the slogan that they adopted was ‘to redeem the soul of America from the triple evils of racism, war and poverty,’ and I think we’ve made significant progress on both race and war. And, I think that most of the problems we chase these days are largely economic, though they sometimes come at us in black and white.

“For instance, the tensions that we have seen between police and students and young people—quite often the police are white and the students are black,” Young went on to elaborate. “But I think most of that is a direct result of the fact that they are part of a change in economy where the white police are underpaid and undertrained, and where the rising tide of expectations in the black minority is met by unemployment and declining opportunity in big cities. And it’s happening almost everywhere. I think of say the Ferguson conflict in St. Louis is more an economic problem than a race problem and I think that that’s the way we’re going to have to deal with it.”

During the same interview, he continued to place emphasis on economics and class, but went on to explain them in light of the ongoing debate on government subsidized healthcare.

“…healthcare is an absolute necessity,” Young said. “I think of even as I saw the young man who was condemned to death for shooting nine people in a church in Charleston [Dylann Roof], I was really pleased that the relatives of those who lost their lives did not want the death penalty. They realized that this was a sick young man who really needed mental health care—that punishing him and making an example of him does not make the world any better.

“But again, he was against Obamacare [the Affordable Care Act] because they called it Obamacare, but that meant he was against the very thing that he needed to live a more positive life,” Young explained. “And so, things are not what they seem to be always, but that’s what an education is about. An education is about trying to figure out what’s real and what’s possible and making our dreams and ideals come true.”

Before Young spoke for the Rayburn Speaker Series portion of the day’s events, he was introduced by friend and colleague Dr. Robert L. Green. The two served as aides to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with Young as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Green as the conference’s education leader. This effectively bookended A&M-Commerce’s 2016-2017 Rayburn Speaker Series, with Dr. Green giving the first back on Sept. 8 and Ambassador Young appearing for the last on April 18.

After Young’s talk and a break for lunch, the university community reconvened on the north lawn of the Hall of Languages where a number of speakers including the university’s first African-American Homecoming Queen, Glenda McKissic Baylor; president of the Theta Theta chapter of Omega Psi Phi’s Alumni Association, Russ Coffee; and the David Talbot’s son, James P. Talbot spoke and shared memories of the man whose named would soon be applied to the building before Ambassador Young delivered the keynote address.

Over the course of the dedication ceremony, people were reminded of Dr. Talbot’s sterling example of a life well lived. Anecdotes about his tireless work both as a counselor in the Counseling Center and a professor of Counseling, his development of a multi-cultural Teacher Training Institute and the Inter-cultural Residence Hall Living Experience, his leadership as assistant to the president for affirmative action, and (long before any of that) his service in the U.S. Army during World War II, in which he served as an interpreter (he spoke as many as seven languages) under General George S. Patton.

In addition to all those accomplishments, a recurring theme that ran through many of the speakers’ stories was that of Dr. Talbot’s support and generosity to the students of (what was then) East Texas State University. Dr. Paul Zelhart of the Department of Psychology, Counseling and Special Education told one about a young Noah Nelson (when he was a student at ET) receiving a surprise gift of a bed after Talbot learned that he’d recently moved and was sleeping on the floor, and Glenda Baylor described Talbot’s advice/encouragement, after she was elected Homecoming Queen, to be as exemplary as she could in everything she did.

Audio of Dr. Ray M. Keck discussing the renaming of the building with A&M-Commerce radio station KETR can be heard at http://bit.ly/2oxDxiW, and a full transcript of Ambassador Young’s talk at the Rayburn Speaker’s Series can be read at http://bit.ly/2q92m4E.