*The accomplishments of late civil rights leader Whitney M. Young, Jr. have been largely forgotten.
The celebrated and controversial life of Young, once executive director of the National Urban League (1961-until his death 1971), will be spotlighted in a dynamic documentary “The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights.” The documentary premieres on Independent Lens on PBS on Monday, February 18, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET.
“It shows the complexities and subtleties of how the whole movement was able to move forward. The fact that you didn’t have just one voice at the table, but you had many voices and different voices. And there’s an appreciation for different people’s roles in that movement,” Bonnie Boswell, Executive Producer and niece of Young said, in an exclusive interview with EURweb associate Tene’ Croom, about the special.
Young was among a cadre of civil rights leaders in the 1960’s including Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins and Thurgood Marshall (later become first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice). In the documentary Vernon Jordan, the next head of the National Urban League after Young, explained:
“Whitney understood power and he understood politics and most of all he understood people. They said Martin was in the streets and Roy and Thurgood was in the courts and Whitney was in the boardroom. One could not have been successful without the other.”
He spearheaded a bold approach to ending poverty and other social ailments in the nation’s cities, calling it a “Domestic Marshall Plan.” The idea to spend $145 billion over 10 years was weaved into President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.
Young often met with the President and would forge a close friendship with Johnson. The President recognized his accomplishments. In 1968 Johnson bestowed upon Young the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.
His ability to broker with White conservative politicians and businessmen raised the ire of some in the Black community, like Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. “Whitey Young, I mean Whitney Young, is the Wall Street of the civil rights movement,” Powell once flippantly declared.
A so-called “black revolutionary plot” to kill him was foiled. Herman B. Furguson and Arthur Harris were convicted in New York of conspiring to murder Young and Roy Wilkins because of their hatred of people they called “Uncle Toms” or persons who they thought were not militant enough for the Black Power cause.
Young, married with two daughters, was a mover and shaker in the civil rights movement, using his charm to cajole often times reluctant Whites in board rooms at corporations to provide economic equity to Blacks in the turbulent 1960’s. Perhaps his self-assuredness was due to his upbringing. Born in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky, in 1921 he was the son of the president of Lincoln Institute, an elite Black boarding school. He would later earn a Bachelor of Science degree from Kentucky State University.
His niece recalls family members talking about his early years.
“I remember my mom talking quite a bit about the fact that he was always going to the doctor, seemed like every month, …read more