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Atlanta — Civil rights leader Andrew Young, who was hired to help Wal-Mart Stores Inc. improve its public image, said early Friday he was stepping down from his position as head of an outside support group amid criticism for remarks seen as racially offensive.
“I think I was on the verge of becoming part of the controversy, and I didn’t want to become a distraction from the main issues, so I thought I ought to step down,” Young, a former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador, told The Associated Press.
Young, once a close associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said his decision to step down followed a report in the weekly Los Angeles Sentinel, which he said was misread and misinterpreted.
In the Sentinel interview, Young was asked about whether he was concerned Wal-Mart causes smaller, mom-and-pop stores to close.
“Well, I think they should; they ran the ‘mom and pop’ stores out of my neighborhood,” the paper quoted Young as saying. “But you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs; very few black people own these stores.”
Young, who has apologized for the remarks, said he decided to end his involvement with Working Families for Wal-Mart after he started getting calls about the story.
“Things that are matter-of-fact in Atlanta, in the New York and Los Angeles environment, tend to be a lot more volatile,” he said.
He also said working with the group “was also taking more of my time than I thought.”
An after-hours call to Wal-Mart was not immediately returned. Company spokeswoman Mona Williams told The New York Times on Thursday that Young’s comments did not reflect Wal-Mart’s views.
“Needless to say, we were appalled when the comments came to our attention,” Williams said. “We were also dismayed that they would come from someone who has worked so hard for so many years for equal rights in this country.”
(Posted on August 18, 2006)
Young Quits Wal-Mart Group After Remarks
Marilyn Geewax, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 18, 2006
Washington — Andrew Young, the former United Nations ambassador and mayor of Atlanta, said Thursday he has resigned as head of Working Families for Wal-Mart, a Washington-based group that supports the retail giant.
His resignation followed the publication of comments he made to a reporter about Jewish-, Asian — and Arab-owned businesses.
“I recently made some comments about former store owners in my neighborhood that were completely and utterly inappropriate. Those comments run contrary to everything I have dedicated my life to,” Young said in a statement.
“I apologize for those comments. I retract those comments. And I ask for the forgiveness of those I have offended.”
Young said his comments “run contrary to everything that Wal-Mart is and means to communities.”