RMPBS Community Cinema presents THE POWERBROKER
I don't think many would disagree that, as Americans, we live in a rather brash society.
Those who revel in being "seen and heard" are often the ones who rise to the top ranks of every facet of professional life, reaping media attention and global admiration along the way.
It seems that those possessing humility - the quiet, unassuming, yet no less hard-working ones - those who successfully pursue their goals and objectives behind the scenes, all too often go unrecognized for their efforts. In spite of their achievements, they lack the particular qualities that find favor with the media. After all, endless footage of board room discussions and closed-door political wrangling doesn't exactly make for exciting television.
These humble warriors end up diminished or outright omitted from the general public's historical record despite their pivotal role in shaping society. Such is the case with Whitney Young.
Whitney Young. Not a name that sounds immediately familiar? When I first read the synopsis for this month's Community Cinema film it seemed to ring a distant bell, though a faint one, if that. I'm sure that buried somewhere in my AP History textbook is a sentence or two dedicated to what amounts to a lifetime of tireless work devoted to the enduring dream of equality.
This reminds me of another figure featured in one of last year's Community Cinema selections, Daisy Bates. It really gets me thinking about why certain people become part of the national consciousness while others remain obscure and largely forgotten.
I learned recently that most of our classroom textbooks are printed in Texas. Perhaps the picture is becoming a bit more clear. To further stoke my deep seated, conspiracy-theorist tendencies, I could point to a white male-dominated media that stood to benefit from portraying an angry, protest-oriented and at times violent black culture. What better images to instill fear in the heartland?
OK. Conspiracy theories aside, maybe it just goes back to what I said earlier about exciting television...
Whitney Young was the ultimate pragmatist. While other civil rights activists approached the white community on the basis that they had a moral obligation to ensure equality, he convinced them that equality would benefit them economically. His message was simple: equality in the workplace and in public life will improve your bottom line and benefit the nation's pocketbook by lifting millions out of poverty. This gained him access to and favor among the politicians and corporate titans positioned to have the greatest influence over the fate of the black community.
It was an argument that proved very lucrative in the context of the civil rights movement. Whitney Young understood early on that the capacity to affect change rested on one's ability to work with people rather than against them. Opening one's argument with accusation - that one's refusal or hesitation to act on behalf of equality was in essence amoral - would not open the doors to the board rooms and halls of power where policy decisions were being made.
Young's reluctance to use moral persuasion angered many within the black community and made him a somewhat controversial figure in the fight for equality. The push for civil rights was moving from the political sphere to the streets as the movement began to take hold within black youth culture.
To these young people frustrated by the slow pace of social transformation, Whitney was simply too entwined with the white power structure to be considered "truly black." These feelings intensified with the emergence of the Black Power movement and culminated in a failed assassination attempt against the man who had committed his life to serving the black community.
Wait. Did I just kill my own conspiracy theory? Could the controversy surrounding Whitney Young within the black community have contributed to his inability to establish the same type of iconic stature as say, a Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Rosa Parks?
More likely than not it's a combination of all of these factors. It seems to be a part of our national character to reserve places in history for those whose personae and life stories we deem (no pun intended) "black and white."
Regardless, I am grateful that Whitney Young's niece took on the monumental effort of putting together a film about the life and work of her late uncle. And thanks to Independent Lens for providing a forum for Young's story to be told. Film such as these always make me aware of how much of history has escaped my aging gray matter.
Those in Grand Junction can enjoy a FREE screening of this film Wednesday, Feb. 20th at 7pm in room 111 of the Academic Classroom Building (corner of Elm and Cannell) on the CMU campus. Check out the RMPBS website for additional screenings in your area or for a listing of air dates.
Now, time to dust off those history books...
Gretchen Reist is now serving as Coordinator of Community Cinema for the Grand Junction area
What's so great about Community Cinema? Let me explain...