Whitney Young remembered

Whitney Young died a young man, at not quite 50 years of age.

But in his brief time on Earth, he left a gigantic footprint in the fight for civil rights and equality. “Independent Lens,” the PBS feature that looks at history through independent documentarians’ eyes, will examine Whitney Young’s life in an episode titled, “The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights.” The film, directed by Christine Khalafian and Taylor Hamilton, will be shown Monday night at 9 on KACV-TV.

Who was this man, whose work intersected with the work of many other civil rights icons of his time?

He ran the National Urban League, he fought to register African-American voters, he became the dean of the college of social work at Atlanta University, he became a political confidant to presidents of both major political parties — John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. His legacy is rich.

Young became especially close to President Johnson, who in 1969, the final year of his presidency, awarded Young the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Whitney Young’s life ended tragically in 1971 in a swimming accident in Lagos, Nigera. President Nixon sent a plane to bring his body back home and the president delivered the eulogy at Young’s funeral.

Young lived in a segregated society growing up in Kentucky. He knew the pain of being treated unequally, but also understood why all human beings benefit from a just society. He once said: “Every man is our brother, and every man’s burden is our own. Where poverty exists, all are poorer. Where hate flourishes, all are corrupted. Where injustice reins, all are unequal.”

“The Powerbroker” brings a great American’s story back to life.


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