New film tells story of unsung civil rights leader

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 23, 2013 at 1:11 pm •  Published: February 23, 2013

The school campus had been something of a shelter for Young from the everyday cruelty of segregation, but he encountered it head-on when he served in a black Army battalion led by white officers in World War II.

After that experience, Young dedicated himself to race relations. Later he borrowed on the postwar rebuilding of Western Europe to push with President Lyndon B. Johnson his proposal for a domestic Marshall Plan providing $145 billion to improve education, employment and welfare for black communities. Johnson folded some of his ideas into his Great Society programs.

Young overcame the broken relationship between blacks and President Richard M. Nixon to persuade him to heavily support social programs that assisted the poor. Nixon lauded Young's work when he spoke at his funeral.

Young's desire "was to help America live up to her ideals," Boswell said, quoting her uncle.

"He would say, 'I could become more popular if I got off the train in Harlem and shouted bad things about white people, but can I be more effective if I go downtown and help get jobs from white people to give to minorities,'" Boswell said in an interview in Washington with The Associated Press.

Young was able to tell people like industrialist Henry Ford II that they needed to step up and do something about the living and working conditions of blacks in ways that captured their respect, said Nancy Weiss Malkiel, author of the 1989 book "Whitney M. Young Jr. and the Struggle for Civil Rights."

Young was not as visible on the front lines of civil rights protests, but he could say with humor and partly in earnest to members of the white establishment that if they didn't deal with him, they would have to deal with Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, who espoused more radical agendas than King, Malkiel said.

Boswell's film airs as the first black president, Barack Obama, begins his second term in office. Obama, whose mother was white and father was black, has endured a racist backlash in his presidency and criticism from within the black community over whether he is doing enough for black Americans.

Dickerson said Young's ideas are a template that Obama has deployed in his political rise. "That is inter-racialism and an emphasis on corporate relations," he said. "That was Whitney Young's mantra and that's the president's mantra."

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Suzanne Gamboa can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/APsgamboa