MERIDIAN — From his easy-going demeanor, you’d never know the many hats that Charles Young wears. His political and business interests cross all sorts of fault lines. And his friendships cross the spectrum of socio-economic strata.
He’s a 20-year veteran of the Legislature and chairman of the House’s powerful Universities and Colleges Committee — and an acknowledged power in the national Democratic Party. Locally, he’s one of the owners of the Holiday Inn Express and is also a shareholder in the new Weidmann’s LLC, the successor to the legendary Weidmann’s restaurant.
Then there’s the part ownership in the local NBC television station.
Young’s interest in television dates back to his participation — along with civil rights leader Aaron Henry and others — in the purchase (and since selling) of Jackson’s WLBT back in the 1960s after the FCC dismissed the previous owners.
But his base of operations is in the blond brick plant-office building on the corner of a busy intersection on the edge of downtown Meridian. The sign in front says “E.F. Young, Jr. Manufacturing Company.” Inside, President Charles Young presides over a bustling family-owned hair styling products business.
1931: a significant year
Glenda, an attractive and courteous receptionist/accountant, keeps up with the continuous traffic and incessant phone ringing of the office area. There are 19 other employees that include those on the assembly line making the Lady Velvet brand hair treatment products. Those goods are then packed in boxes that cram the area serving as a warehouse. The products are shipped all over the U.S., but primarily to beauty shops in the Southeast. An in-house telemarketing operation is constantly at work to increase the customer base.
The business had its origin in Young’s father’s kitchen in 1931, the depths of the Depression, when E.F. Young Jr. owned a barber shop and drove a taxi to feed his family. Charles was born that same year.
The operation moved into its new building in 1985 from its previous quarters in the E.F. Young Jr. Hotel. Charles’ mother took over the business when Mr. Young died in 1950, and Charles has been president since the mid-1970s.
Young has a business degree from Tennessee State, but as he puts it, “Chemistry was not my strength.” In 1978, he went to Chicago and hired Abdul Lala, who’s the vice president in charge of research and new products. Young describes Lala as “a godsend.”
‘They’re killing us right now’
The U. S. economic slowdown started for the firm in November 2000. Charles attributes some of the drop in sales to “so much false hair from foreign countries.” In any event, a new Lady Velvet product is in process that will be marketed to Wal-Mart and other major retailers, “and we’re also reviewing our pricing structure and competitive position,” according to Young.
When asked about his competitors, Young whistles, then reels off national brand names like Revlon and L’Oreal. “They’re killing us right now,” he said.
Battle tested and scarred
Although graying and beginning to show signs of his 70 years, the mustached and always spiffily dressed Young is spry and ultra-active in his various interests. Not only does he chair the Legislature’s Universities and Colleges Committee, he’s also a member of four other standing committees, including the powerful Ways & Means Committee. As if that isn’t enough, he’s a member of the Redistricting Committee that’s been “topic A” in the news due to its inability to agree on congressional election districts. Legislative redistricting is another task the committee must confront.
But Young is battle tested. During his two-year Army career, he received the Bronze Star for valor under fire hauling artillery ammunition in Korea. And he was in the forefront of the 1960s battle for civil rights on the local and national scene. Typically, he won the respect of both friend and foe and was always consulted on any important racial issue. In 1966, he became the first African-American member of the then-Meridian Chamber of Commerce — at his own request.
He shows few battle scars from the segregationist days. He does point out that his father died at a very early age due to high blood pressure.
“At that time, a good capable hospital was not available for black people,” he observed.
About that committee chairmanship
Today Young is a widely-respected community and state leader renowned for his knowledge of issues and wide circle of friends. He takes his committee chairmanship seriously.
“I feel one of the ways to make things happen in Mississippi is to make sure that our teachers are well prepared and the environment is what we want it to be,” he said.
Veteran legislator Charlie Capps is from Cleveland and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He said this about Young: “He is certainly a gentleman and is very aggressive in letting us know what’s going on in East Mississippi and what the area’s needs are. And he’s good about visiting the universities and bringing us the information we need. Most of all, when there are disagreements, he steps forward as a peacemaker and reconciler. We enjoy being with each other.”
A widower, Charles has four children and an equal number of grandchildren. One daughter, Veldore Heidelberg, is assistant district attorney in Meridian (and mother of his latest grandchild). A son, Chuck, is in charge of E.F. Young’s marketing while another son is with Home Depot in Maryland and another daughter is a housewife in Colorado.
The demands on Young’s time as a company president, business and legislative leader and family patriarch come from all sides.
“Sometimes I wonder how I’ll survive,” Young said.
So if you’re ever on I-20 and a Lexus with a legislative tag zooms by, you’ll know that’s Charles Young, that widely-respected man of many hats going about his multitude of duties.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.