The celebration also paid homage to Whitney Young, former executive director of the National Urban League and a driving force behind the Civil Right Movement. Freeland related his experiences with Young and his comments were followed by a screening of the film “The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights.”
“Whitney believed if the country could make a commitment to race problems and the status of Negroes, the problems could be solved,” Freeland said. “Unfortunately it did not.”
During Young’s 10 years as president of the Urban League, the organization grew from 38 employees to 1,600; and from an annual budget of $325,000 to $6,100,000. While he is less known than other civil rights leaders, Young was on par with the likes of Malcolm X and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for the progress he made in improving socioeconomic opportunity for African-Americans.
“In 1968 King was assassinated and the Urban Leagues decided we should get an insurance policy on Whitney and a guard,” Freeland said. “So that was the way it was and those were the things we did to make things safer for Whitney.”
That same year, an assassination attempt on Young came from two African-Americans who like others, disapproved of Young’s relationships with Whites. However, it was these relationships that allowed Young to gain influence with corporations and even government as he served as an adviser to presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon.
Before his passing in 1971 at only 49, Young dedicated a majority of his work to ending employment discrimination. This same cause and commitment to breaking down barriers to employment such as education and discrimination is a hallmark of the local Urban League today.