Though recognized as a major civil rights leader and one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, Whitney Young’s strategy of engaging political and corporate leaders as partners in the struggle for economic justice was met with opposition by many Whites and skepticism by more militant Blacks. Despite these challenges, Whitney Young turned the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement into jobs and economic opportunity for African-Americans. He was an advisor to Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. Johnson used Young’s “Domestic Marshall Plan” as the basis for his “War on Poverty.” And Nixon delivered the eulogy at Young’s 1971 funeral.
Princeton historian and Whitney Young biographer, Nancy Weiss Malkiel once called Young “the inside man of the Black revolution.” In her 1989 book, Whitney M. Young Jr. and the Struggle for Civil Rights, Malkiel wrote that Young “spent most of his adult life in the White world, transcending barriers of race, wealth and social standing to advance the welfare of Black Americans. His tactics were reason, persuasion and negotiation.” Whitney Young’s story deserves the national exposure PBS is giving it.
(Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.)