GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - You may never heard of Whitney Young, Jr., an activist during the turbulent civil rights movement of the '60s. Never a Martin Luther King who marched, preached and commanded a huge following promoting equal rights for blacks, Young was a shadow in the background. Smooth, suave, well-dressed, intelligent and articulate, he quietly moved between the black community and the boardrooms of the white elite helping to break down barriers holding back Black Americans from equal opportunity in the workplace.
During his service in the Army, Young became a mediator between the white officers and the mistreated blacks and realized he had the ability to find solutions to problems. He saw what the Marshall Plan did for Europe and felt if we could do it overseas, we could do it at home. After WWll, America funded the ERP (European Recovery Program known as the Marshall Plan) to rebuild European economies. It was Young's overseas experiences that formulated his future.
Returning to civilian life, Young joined the National Urban League, an organization to promote equality for blacks, and eventually became director of the league. This position gave him access to corporate leaders, congressmen and the president. Young approached these leaders, not with a moral issue, but with the pragmatic argument: Integration is good for business.
He balanced the business advantages of desegregation in the workplace with the needs of the black community, and his arguments succeeded in placing 40,000 blacks in the workplace. Young then pressed the need for a domestic Marshall Plan telling President Johnson that freedom was not enough; people had to be prepared to climb the ladder. Johnson was convinced and funded programs like Head Start.
In the midst of success, came revolt. Blacks wanted more NOW, and the chant "Black Power" was heard and spread by the media. Violence ensued. Young denounced the chanting; blacks called him "Uncle Tom" and planned an assassination attempt that was thwarted. Young, however, continued to talk with Johnson explaining that "Black Power" meant, not revolution, but black pride and the ability to participate in one's own destiny. He continued to urge implementation of his domestic Marshall Plan.
The war in Vietnam cut domestic spending. Donations to the Urban League were down. Nixon became president. Young turned to Nixon for funding and, unbelievably, received more than ever before.
In 1971, Whitney Young, an untold hero of the Civil Rights movement, unexpectedly died of a probable heart attack. He once said, "... I would like to think that at a crucial moment, I was an effective voice of the voiceless, an effective hope of the hopeless."
"The Powerbroker" is a film that tells far more than the history of Whitney Young. It is a vivid reminder of the chaotic days of the Civil Rights movement. The rights we take for granted today were hard fought and the fight goes on.
Wednesday, Feb. 20; 7 p.m. screening, 6:30 p.m. wine and cheese reception
Room 111, Academic Classroom Building
Colorado Mesa University
*This is a new location for the 2012-2013 Community Cinema season. The Academic Classroom Building is located near the intersection of Elm and Cannell avenues with plenty of free parking available after 6.
• Harry Butler
• Gretchen Reist Henderson, Off the Grid Films, moderator
This Community Cinema Film is sponsored by Chevron, Mesa County Libraries, Talon Wine Brands and KAFM 88.1 Community Radio.