- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

DECATUR, Ga.

At the grand opening of a Wal-Mart in a black suburb of Atlanta, former Mayor Andrew Young danced with store clerks, bouncing to the song “We Are Family.”

He also posed with a $1 million check from the company — a donation for a memorial to Martin Luther King to be built on the Mall in Washington.

Mr. Young took part in the pep rally in his new position as a paid corporate cheerleader for Wal-Mart — a role that has perplexed some of his longtime civil rights colleagues, who have all but accused him of going over to the enemy.

Activists for the poor have long complained that Wal-Mart skimps on wages and health care benefits, forces employees to work off the clock and kills off mom-and-pop businesses.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, known as the dean of the civil rights movement, said Mr. Young — the 74-year-old former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador — is acting as a “lone wolf” in working for Wal-Mart.

“Maybe he knows something that other advocates for economic justice don’t,” Mr. Lowery said. “Maybe we will see the corporate giant be born again and become a good corporate citizen.”

Mr. Young, who as one of King’s top lieutenants was a business liaison during the civil rights era, said that by working for the world’s largest retailer, he hopes to increase jobs and open other doors for poor people. He defended his role as entirely consistent with the ideals of the civil rights movement.

“Civil rights leaders are involved in helping poor people,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing all my life.”

Mr. Young long ago left behind his protest days in favor of stumping for economic opportunity.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who also worked alongside King, reserved his negative comments for the company, not his former comrade.

“It’s his private choice. That’s not a public policy issue,” Mr. Jackson said, adding that the shift to a “Wal-Mart economy” of part-time work without health insurance is bad for the country.

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