In a city that was still sharply divided by race more than a decade after it served as the epicenter of the civil rights movement, theirs was a risky partnership.
Andrew Young, a black civil rights icon who had been a top lieutenant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a U.S. congressman and United Nations ambassador, needed Charles Loudermilk, a white conservative businessman from the city's old guard, to help him get elected mayor of Atlanta in 1981.
Representing two disparate constituencies, Young and Loudermilk forged a friendship that built on Atlanta's racial and economic strides -- launching the city onto an international stage.
More than 20 years later, the pair remain close. Their latest alliance will stand as a testament to their relationship: A $1 million monument of Young, paid for by Loudermilk.
It will be a statue to be unveiled in the fall. The plan is to place it in a small park along Andrew Young International Boulevard in downtown Atlanta.
Loudermilk has said he would write a check for "whatever it takes" to build the statue of Young, adding that "Andy deserves the best."
Sitting down together for an interview against the backdrop of the downtown they helped create, the two easily slip into a familiar candor, their wide grins and hearty laughs affirming the warmth between them -- a union that seemed impossible when the two first met decades ago.
"Martin Luther King told us you can't be interested in money, because that's the way you get in trouble," Young says.
"I told him, 'You and I aren't going to be together very often,' " Loudermilk says with a chuckle.
But in the early years of the New South, Young's impressive resume was not enough to overcome the shaky relationship between business and the city. White businessmen were losing power to an influential and successful black electorate -- power they didn't want to give up easily, recalls Loudermilk, who founded Aaron Rents Inc. in 1955.
"Charlie was the only white businessman that supported Andy for mayor. They wanted the city back," says Bob Holmes, political science professor and director of the Southern Center for Studies in Public Policy at Clark-Atlanta University.
"When you're in a position where one guy is willing to befriend you, he becomes a friend for life."
From their first meeting, the black Democrat and white Republican agreed: Atlanta's business community and black community wanted the same thing and needed each other to survive.
Young's election victory in 1981 happened without the support of business community leaders, but he reached out to them anyway, explaining that though he didn't win with them, he couldn't govern without them.
"That's the way we do things in Atlanta," says Loudermilk, who was co-chairman of Young's first mayoral campaign. "The business community controls the dollars. The African American community controls the politics. You can't build a great city without the two groups working together very closely."
Loudermilk saw Young as the person who could bring City Hall and business back together, and Young respected and was impressed by Loudermilk, who he felt could help create jobs in the black community.
"I felt like Charlie had made business his calling," Young says, likening his entrepreneurship to Young's own path as an ordained minister.
For eight years (Young was reelected in 1985), the pair functioned as missionaries for Atlanta, carrying out Young's vision of a global Atlanta, furthering the city's reputation as "The City Too Busy to Hate" and helping lead the city's successful bid to be the host of the 1996 Olympics.
During his tenure, Young says the Atlanta area attracted $70 billion and 1,100 companies -- and people of all backgrounds and cultures.
Though their politics would inspire a rivalry between most, both men say that beyond their political beliefs, they aren't so different.
"Andy and I respect each other and understand each other's position," Loudermilk says. "I can't think of much of a reason why we aren't alike."
Both see each other as family-oriented, high-energy, big-picture thinkers, mature and, above all, passionate about Atlanta.
Their labors of love are not done. Young, who in the early 1970s was the first modern-era black congressman from Georgia before his appointment by President Carter as U.N. ambassador, is now chairman of Atlanta-based GoodWorks International, which he co-founded nine years ago to foster long-term economic development in Africa and the Caribbean. He also teaches at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta.
Loudermilk continues to serve as chairman of Aaron Rents, a national rental store chain. In 2000, he created the Loudermilk Center to host business and social functions in downtown Atlanta.
"They both share a passion for community and for this particular community that transcends the racial divide," says Central Atlanta Progress President A.J. Robinson, who serves on the group's board of directors with Young and Loudermilk. Robinson himself was instrumental in downtown Atlanta's development as president of the real estate firm Portman Holdings.
"In other cities, people get along, but they may not get along at a level that these two guys get along," Robinson says.