February is dedicated to Black history, but some of the most significant Civil Rights change agents are forgotten in favor of the dominant Montgomery Bus Boycott narrative. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is aiming to alter this with their “Independent Lens” series on progressive leaders and thinkers. Whitney Young Jr.’s life and work is featured in the latest installment.
“The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights” documents Young’s boldness during the 1960s as he evolved from freedom fighting in Kentucky to life as a diplomat on the national stage. The documentary chronicles his infiltration into corporate boardrooms and even the White House through three presidential administrations. He attempted to use the master’s tools to dismantle the house, which led to aggressive criticism from those within the movement.
“The Powerbroker,” narrated by Georgia congressman John Lewis, also recounts the overlooking of Young’s achievements in the shadow of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ph.D., and his role as executive director of the National Urban League, which he led from 1961 to 1971.
Young died in Nigeria in 1971 at age 49. Since his death, several schools and facilities have been named in his honor, including First Lady Michelle Obama’s Chicago high school. But Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, doesn’t think Young has received adequate credit for his work, including his instrumental role in developing Job Corps and Head Start.
Morial expressed the importance of Young’s legacy to the Associated Press. “He was one of the earliest voices who said to corporate America … that business leaders and the business community had a stake in the development and rebuilding of urban America, but also in the success of civil rights,” he said.
“The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights” is airing on PBS and is being screened in several community theaters. For a list of airings, visit the official website.
Check out the trailer below.