Beyond their anger and frustration, many blacks in Washington yesterday welcomed Andrew Young's resignation as U.N. Ambassador, saying the independent-minded Young is now free to become the nation's most important black leader in more than a decade.
"It has clearly made him the voice of black people in this country. We've had no symbol like that to hang around since Martin Luther King," said the Rev. Robert L. Pruitt, pastor of the 1,400-member Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church downtown.
At Chez Maurice, a dimly-lit restaurant and bar at 9th and U streets NW, the talk among patrons turned to Young during a discussion about their view of the major problems facing blacks in America, including loss of homes in the central cities and a dearth of committed black leadership.
"Thank God, we've got another voice out there, now," on the lunch-time regulars said, referring to Young.
"I'm so glad he's out of there," said another. "I don't see why he took that job in the first place."
At luncheon tables in Southwest Washington, in the high-rises and town houses of the rising black professional class, in African lobbyists' offices and on the lumpy lawns of public housing projects, the talk yesterday was of Young's resignation.
Many of those interviewed said they believe Young can now speak out against black injustices with the same independence that led to his departure from the Carter administration.
Despite Young's assertion that he had left as a matter of principle and had volunteered on resign, many blacks, already mistrustful of an administration they feel has not kept its campaign promises to them, said they believe Young was forced out.
They do not view the latest incident as a final inexcusable displomatic gaffe, but rather a knock-out punch by critics who had pummeled Young ever since he assumed the post in 1977.
"I'll tell you why he had to resign," said a Federal Aviation Administration employe sitting at the bar of the Channel Inn on the Southwest waterfront. "The pressure was on him from the bureaucracy because he made too many statements they didn't like. I don't believe he resigned voluntarily. No way."
The Rev. George B. Rogers, pastor of the Isle of Patmos Baptist Church in Northeast Washington said, "It looks like they were jumping on every little thing he did. They've been picking on him. I think he was forced out."
The circumstances of Young's departure added still another factor that, in the minds of those interviewed, make him a more likely candidate to assume a longtime void in black leadership -- he is a living martyr.
"We as blacks will probably never get that close to power again, and Andy was up there in their league," said Gloria Ward, standing outside a high-rise building in the Greenleaf Gardens public housing project in Southwest. "They realized they didn't have to assassinate him like the others, just make him resign."
The call for Young's resignation followed disclosures that he had held an unauthorized meeting with a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization at a time when the administration's official policy was to not meet with PLO.
However, several blacks interviewed yesterday quickly pointed to the fact that the U.S. ambassador to Austria has held three meetings with PLO representatives in recent weeks without being asked to resign. Young, they said, was being held up to a double standard because he is black.
"Why did a black ambassador have to resign and not the white ambassador? What's the difference?" Pruitt asked rhetorically. "Apparently, white ambassadors are able to [meet] but black ambassadors are not astute enough to interpret the policies of the country."
Even some who criticized Young for offering his resignation felt it was too harsh a step for the top-ranking black in the administration to leave over the PLO meeting.
"Carter could have been a little more understanding, [but] I would have never resigned if I were Young," said Curtis Pinkney, 27, sitting in the back of the Arthur Capper Recreation Center in southeast Washington.
"Everyone is entitled to a mistake. Other ambassadors have made mistakes, but they didn't resign," Pinkney said. "By him being the first black in his position that should have given him greater strength to stay there. By him giving up so easily, it shows the people that he is a weak individual."
Langdon Johnson, an advertising account executive, said during lunch at Waterside Mall that he thinks Young has increased his standing in the black community by what he did in the Carter administration.
"Andy achieved a lot of respectability despite the fact that a lot of us doubted his sincereity in the beginning because he didn't wear a big Afro and he chose to work within the system," said Johnson, himself a former civil rights activist.
Several persons interviewed yesterday said they agreed with many national black leaders who had said immediately after Young's resignation that the incident will worsen relations between Jews and blacks in the United States.
Young's meeting with the PLO representative had touched off bitter protests by Israelis.
Randall Robinson, director of the black Africa lobby Transafrica, said the black and Jewish communities in America are "parting company" already over domestic issues such as quotas in jobs and education -- "Jews are overrepresented and blacks are underrepresented," he said -- and foreign policy questions including South Africa.
"Now, as a crowning blow, that community has participated in the dismissal of a leading member of the black community because he dared to speak to a member of the PLO," Robinson said.
Mayor Marion Barry said yesterday he was "disappointed" because Young's departure had been prompted by a Middle East issue rather than one involving African policy, which Young had done so much to change.
"Andy Young is well respected in the Third World," Barry said. "And in America, we don't have one leader . . . But certainly Andy Young is one of the most respected black leaders."
"I was saddened by the whole affair," Barry said. He said he talked with Young Wednesday night.
Asked if Young had suggested to the administration any persons to succeed him, Barry quoted the outgoing ambassador as saying: "I would not wish that on my friends."
$2Staff writer Edward Sargent contributed to this article.