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Arts and Entertainment

PBS Documentary explores life of "The Powerbroker"
Documentary on Whitney M. Young to air Feb. 19
Published Tuesday, February 5, 2013 4:00 pm
by Michaela L. Duckett

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Civil rights leader adn Urban League director Whitney Young is the subject of a upcoming PBS documentary, "The Powerbroker: Whitney Young's Fight for Civil Rights."

Whitney Young Jr. may be less known today than other leaders of his era, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, but his legacy and influence are still felt today.

Young was instrumental in brokering some of the most critical events of the Civil Rights era – namely the 1963 March on Washington and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

A documentary about Young’s life, titled “The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights,” will premiere on “Independent Lens” Feb. 18 at 10 p.m. on PBS. Young’s niece, Emmy Award-winning journalist Bonnie Boswell, executive produced the film.

“I decided to make this film in an effort to get to know him better,” Boswell said. “While I knew Uncle Whitney through my personal relationship with him, my appreciation and understanding of his role in the Civil Rights Movement was not all that different from the general public, which is to say, somewhat limited.”

Young, who served as executive director of the National Urban League, used his status to garner the ears of top leaders of industry and government. While his unique position earned him praise, it also brought scorn from some in the Black Power Movement who felt Young was too chummy with the “white establishment” – Fortune 500 CEOs, governors, senators and presidents. Some labeled him an “Uncle Tom” and “Oreo.” He received death threats.

“During my college days, I was one of those who was critical of ‘Establishment’ leaders like Uncle Whitney,” said Boswell.

Ten years in the making, “The Powerbroker” is both a historical chronicle of Young’s contributions to the civil rights movement and a portrait of his personal life, drawing on the reflections of relatives, home movies, personal photographs and audio recordings.

The film features rare archival footage and exclusive interviews with a diverse array of people who worked with Young and have been shaped by his work, including the late Dorothy Height, Pulitzer Prize winner Manning Marable, Ossie Davis, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Howard Zinn.

“I believe his story can teach us today about what it takes to make a democracy work,” Boswell said.

To learn more about the film, visit www.whitneyyoungfilm.com.


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