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Community Cinema showcases the life of Whitney Young

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 5, 2013 - Whitney Young Jr. made waves in history. Although few history books highlight his accomplishments, he is a man worth learning more about. This Wednesday night come to the Community Cinema presentation at the Missouri History Museum to see a free showing of The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights. The film explains Young’s path to becoming one of the most influential leaders in the civil rights movement.

The documentary illustrates’ Young’s ability to eloquently converse with those protesting civil rights on the streets and those who sat in leather chairs in fancy boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies. In other words, the film showcases Young’s talent in articulating the needs of Main Street to the interests of Wall Street. This ability broke barriers and helped get African Americans into circles and jobs previously reserved for whites.

Young, head of the National Urban League from 1961-71, learned he needed to shake hands, gain allies and make deals with the powerful white elite that opened opportunities for African Americans. This tightrope dance with two different groups came with a cost -- Young endured death threats, an attempted assassination, the nickname “Whitey” Young among other obstacles, but they did not stop his influence or his legacy.

Young is remembered as a practical man that didn’t need glory or public credit. In the film, he’s quoted as saying, "I am not anxious to be the loudest voice or the most popular. 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 voice did resonate at the time and he advised Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. As Nixon said in Young’s eulogy, “He knew how to accomplish what other people were merely for.”

The film includes historically important events of the civil rights era — Brown v Board of Education, the March on Washington, and the Vietnam War — through the eyes of Young by using archival footage, photos and interviews compiled by Young's niece, award-winning journalist Bonnie Boswell Hamilton. The film is a must see and should evoke an interesting panel discussion that will follow the film. Panelists include:

Jim Buford – president and chief executive of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis for 25 years.

Montague Simmons - chair, Organization for Black Struggle

Jamala Rogers – columnist in the St. Louis American; founder and past head of the Organization for Black Struggle.

Stefan Bradley - SLU professor teaches about activism and black youth movements; he has written books and articles about African American activists

Rosa Dudman Mayer is a freelance writer.