Civil rights leader Whitney Young, Jr. has no national holiday bearing his name. You won’t find him in most history books. In fact, few today know his name, much less his accomplishments. But he was at the heart of the civil rights movement – an inside man who broke down the barriers that held back African Americans.
Young shook the right hands, made the right deals, and opened the doors of opportunity that had been locked tight through the centuries. Unique among black leaders, the one-time executive director of the National Urban League took the fight directly to the powerful white elite, gaining allies in business and government. In the Oval Office, Young advised presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and guided each along a path toward historic change.
The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights follows Young as he shuttles between the streets of Harlem and the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies, tying the needs of Main Street to the interests of Wall Street. The film shows the pivotal events of the civil rights era — Brown v Board of Education, the March on Washington, and the Vietnam War — through the eyes of a man striving to change the established powers in a way no one else could: from within.
This calm, purposeful, dapper, and pragmatic man didn’t need glory or public credit for his accomplishments. "I am not anxious to be the loudest voice or the most popular,” he once said. “But I would like to think that at a crucial moment, I was an effective voice of the voiceless, an effective hope of the hopeless.”
His close ties with powerful whites sometimes came at a cost, including an attempted assassination described as part of a “black revolutionary plot.” Some called him “Whitey” Young, and mocked him as “the Wall Street of the civil rights movement.”
But this didn’t stop his fight, or his legacy. As Nixon said in Young’s eulogy, “He knew how to accomplish what other people were merely for.”