Arguably the most unappreciated and misunderstood of the civil rights leaders of his day, the controversial Whitney Young is the subject of a new documentary which will air on most PBS stations on Monday, February 18.
“Pragmatism was his creed,” says former National Urban League CEO Vernon Jordan of Whitney Young, who headed that organization during the racial turbulence of the 1960s. Lauded by many for his success at convincing corporate America to open its doors and eventually even its boardrooms to Blacks, Young was also denigrated by many as an “Uncle Tom” or an “Oreo” for eschewing as he himself put it “symbols over substance and protest over progress.”
The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights, tells the story of “one of the great unsung heroes” of the civil rights movement, proclaims narrator Alfre Woodward in this film executive produced by Young’s niece, Emmy Award-winning journalist Bonnie Boswell. Although he often clashed with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other top figures in the movement and the Black community, his role was crucial in integrating Blacks into the workplace. As Jordan explains “Martin was in the streets, Thurgood (Marshall) was in the courts and Whitney was in the boardroom; one could not have been successful without the others.”
Young was more comfortable in those boardrooms than in the streets or courtrooms, and knew how to talk to business leaders. His efforts opened up Ford, Pepsico and other big American corporations to Blacks. American Express CEO Kenneth Chennault is one of many Black business executives who says they owe a debt to Young, whom he says “helped pave the road for my success in corporate America.”
Chennault and Jordan are but two of the many politicians, professors, historians, activists and relatives who appear on camera during the course of the one-hour documentary. Some note his failings and frustrations, but most, like Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. speak highly of Young. Gates in particular eulogizes Young as “a prophet,” noting that at the time “few people understood how brilliant his vision for racial transformation of American power was.”
The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights is part of PBS’ Independent Lens series, and premieres on most PBS stations at 10 P.M. Monday, February 18.
Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with over 30 years of experience as a ghost-writer and columnist. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln. To view and pre-order what will be Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit http://www.gmtgames.com/p-238-rebel-raiders-on-the-high-seas.aspx
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