New Documentary Highlights the Life of Whitney Young
Civil Rights figure was known for his ability to negotiate with people from all over the political spectrum
Bruce Poinsette Of The Skanner News
February 11, 2013With partisan politics showing no signs of fading, some say the time couldn’t be better to highlight the story of Whitney Young.
“He was a bridge builder between races and economic groups,” says Bonnie Boswell, Young’s niece. “He was determined to find common ground. People in the future are going to need to be able to do this in a multicultural world.”
Boswell has produced the film, “The Power Broker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights,” which will debut on PBS on Feb. 18. The film highlights the civil rights legend’s ability to negotiate and the lesser acknowledged role he played in making numerous civil rights advances.
He may not have a household name like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks but Boswell says Young deserves the same respect. She notes that in addition to being overlooked in favor of louder public figures, Young was also derided by some in the Black Power Movement for being an “Uncle Tom” and part of the “establishment.”
Boswell says that Young’s upbringing helped him deal with these accusations from people who had similar aspirations as he did. He was raised in Kentucky during Segregation, which taught him the restraint required for survival, she says.
“They (his parents) taught him and other young people how to not get mad and get smart,” she says. “To not let anybody drive you so low as to hate them.”
Young continued to develop his temperament when he went to work in a segregated army as an aviator. According to Boswell, constantly dealing with white officers helped him in his life’s work to maintain his composure.
Washington D.C. could learn a lot from Young, says Boswell.
Partisan bickering has been a staple of President Barack Obama’s tenure in office so far. For example, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proclaimed the GOP’s primary goal was to make Obama a one term President, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating and placed much of the blame on Republicans’ unwillingness to phase out the Bush Tax Cuts, and Congress famously received a lower approval rating than cockroaches, Ghengis Khan and Nickleback.
This displays intolerance for dialogue, suggests Boswell.
During his day, Young received heavy criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.
“He wasn’t concerned about being popular,” says Boswell. “I think you can learn a lot from the self-control that he had to have to not get swayed by his emotions. The kind of confidence he had to not try to play to a crowd.
“In any social movement, you need a complexity of voices at the table. Whitney Young, because of his background, was able to approach corporate leaders as well as political leaders.
“There were people who were louder and protested more but you also needed someone like Whitney Young, after the protests were over, to go in and negotiate with people who had power to be able to provide the kind of access so people could get better jobs, get better education, get better housing. It’s not a one solution kind of situation.”
Boswell says that Young’s lesser known role in the civil rights movement made it challenging for her to get the film out. Specifically, she says it was hard to convince people of the validity of the work because of the complexity of the subject matter. The idea for the film originally came to her in 2002 and she began fulltime work on it in 2008.
Boswell hopes “The Power Broker” will help encourage people to look into their own family histories. She says Young, like many prominent civil rights figures of the day, gets overlooked because of our insistence on narrowing down large movements to one or two people. We often overlook integral figures in our own families because we’re distracted by entertainers or other people’s stories, she says.
“Everybody is touched by the times they live in,” says Boswell. “For use to be able to go back, for young people to go and ask the elders about their stories, is really important.
“I think this is a film about hope. While some might be tempted to look at this in purely historical terms, I think it really is a guide in terms of the values, all told, to make this a better world and a peaceful world.”