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Militant Mediator

Militant Mediator: Whitney M. Young Jr.

Dennis C. Dickerson
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Militant Mediator
    Book Description:

    During the turbulent 1960s, civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr. devised a new and effective strategy to achieve equality for African Americans. Young blended interracial mediation with direct protest, demonstrating that these methods pursued together were the best tactics for achieving social, economic, and political change.Militant Mediatoris a powerful reassessment of this key and controversial figure in the civil rights movement. It is the first biography to explore in depth the influence Young's father, a civil rights leader in Kentucky, had on his son. Dickerson traces Young's swift rise to national prominence as a leader who could bridge the concerns of deprived blacks and powerful whites and mobilize the resources of the white America to battle the poverty and discrimination at the core of racial inequality. Alone among his civil rights colleagues -- Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, John Lewis, and James Forman -- Young built support from black and white constituencies. As a National Urban League official in the Midwest and as a dean of the School of Social Work at Atlanta University during the 1940s and 1950s, Young developed a strategy of mediation and put it to work on a national level upon becoming the executive director of the League in 1961. Though he worked with powerful whites, Young also drew support from middle-and working-class blacks from religious, fraternal, civil rights, and educational organizations. As he navigated this middle ground, though, Young came under fire from both black nationalists and white conservatives.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4881-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Black Americans seldom have spoken with a single voice. While a consensus has always existed concerning the urgency of freedom and equality, blacks have disagreed about how these objectives were to be achieved. During the black struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, despite intergroup conflicts, leaders of the major civil rights organizations spoke with rare unanimity about their quest for an integrated American society. Although they pursued common goals, they chose different tactics to attain them. Moreover, each played a special leadership role and made unique contributions to the civil rights movement.

    These national leaders, the “Big Six,” defined the...

  5. 1 As the Twig Is Bent
    (pp. 8-23)

    Whenever Whitney M. Young Jr. mentioned his background in Kentucky, he identified himself and his native state as southern. He remembered that Jim Crow was as deeply entrenched in this border state as it was anywhere in the Old Confederacy. Segregated housing, schools, restaurants, libraries, and other public facilities were as much a part of Kentucky’s racial landscape as they were Alabama’s or Mississippi’s. Yet, in some ways, Kentucky was different. Sixty years before Young was born, the state’s nonslaveholding majority and its indigenous abolitionist movement limited the influence of slaveholders. When the Civil War occurred, Kentucky, while retaining its...

  6. 2 Growing Up with Jim Crow
    (pp. 24-34)

    Whitney M. Young Jr. grew up in the segregated South. Separate and unequal conditions existed in every facet of black life including education, employment, housing, and public accommodations. For Young, however, racial segregation did not affect him seriously. He was sheltered by his mother and father and exposed to unusually talented black professionals at Lincoln Institute, at Kentucky State College, and in Louisville among his parents’ social peers. Reared in a comfortable middle-class environment, Young was occasionally cushioned from the harsh realities of Jim Crow. From childhood to early manhood, separate black institutions shaped his experiences and perspectives. Educated by...

  7. 3 Maturing in Minnesota
    (pp. 35-55)

    Whitney Young’s later effectiveness as a national black leader owed much to his early professional experiences in Minnesota and Nebraska. From his work with National Urban League affiliates in Minneapolis and St. Paul he learned important lessons in mobilizing interracial support for black advancement. He persuaded influential whites in these communities, especially in business, to cooperate with League efforts to broaden employment opportunities for blacks and to become permanent backers of these local affiliates. At the same time, Young recognized that black activism represented another effective means to break down racial barriers. Both as a participant and as a behind-the-scenes...

  8. 4 Becoming a Leader: The Omaha Years
    (pp. 56-87)

    A tough job lay ahead of Whitney Young in racially conservative Omaha, Nebraska. Segregationist practices barred blacks from most downtown hotels. Restaurants did not welcome black patrons, and even the airport cafeteria refused them service. Housing for blacks was sharply restricted to designated areas bordering 24th Avenue. Even some churches steadfastly resisted efforts to integrate their congregations. Most appalling to Young was the refusal of Omaha’s biggest firms to hire blacks. Even when exceptions were made to these racial customs, they yielded only to minor modifications. For example, in the 1940s, the exclusive Fontenelle Hotel agreed to provide lodging to...

  9. 5 An Activist Educator
    (pp. 88-115)

    Young did not choose to become a full-time social work educator because the ivory tower suddenly held greater attractions than the untidy world of social work practice. Rather, he reached a vocational dead end in a constrained League structure with limited opportunities for ambitious and restless local executives eager for promotions. While Atlanta University represented an alternative, it was not necessarily the most desirable. As Young grew accustomed to his new environment, however, he became increasingly aware of a burgeoning civil rights movement throughout the South. As dean of the region’s only accredited school of social work primarily for blacks,...

  10. 6 Crossroads
    (pp. 116-134)

    Those who saw an animated Whimey Young deliver speeches, advise movement activists, and counsel student protesters believed that he was illsuited for academia. Scholarly reflection and writing, while not beyond his intellectual grasp, were less satisfying than frontline involvements in the burgeoning civil rights movement. Although unsure of his vocational direction, Young wanted to join with an organization that pursued social change.

    While Young provided technical advice to scores of activists seeking to destroy southern segregation, he never forsook his first love, the Urban League. During the late 1950s his became a familiar voice at national and local League meetings...

  11. 7 Retooling the League
    (pp. 135-160)

    Diverse elements of the civil rights struggle coalesced into a sustained and identifiable movement just as Whitney Young assumed his duties as executive director of the National Urban League. Starting with successful bus boycotts in 1953, 1955, and 1956 in Baton Rouge, Montgomery, and Tallahassee, respectively, southern blacks discovered the effectiveness of economic pressure and legal action as methods to destroy segregation in public transportation. Demonstrations and sit-ins to protest exclusion from department store lunch counters in numerous southern cities beginning in 1957 and culminating in 1960 in Greensboro drew black college students to the vanguard of civil rights activities....

  12. 8 Maintaining a Middle Ground
    (pp. 161-183)

    When Bayard Rustin learned that Whitney Young would succeed Lester W Granger as executive director of the National Urban League, he confided his utter astonishment to A. Philip Randolph. Randolph wondered, “What has happened to Whitney Young?” Was he out of his mind? He declared that the League would not be “on the cutting edge of any form of direct action,” so why would Whitney affiliate with such a conservative organization? Rustin and Randolph, both veteran activists in civil rights, labor, and pacifist causes, admired Young for his work with student demonstrators in Atlanta and his advocacy of picketing, sit-ins,...

  13. 9 Humanizing the City
    (pp. 184-206)

    Whitney M. Young Jr., alone among the national leaders of the civil rights movement, focused his efforts on urban issues. Whereas successful assaults on legalized segregation in the South drew the attention of Young’s colleagues in SCLC, SNCC, CORE, and the NAACP, only the National Urban League concerned itself exclusively with social and economic conditions among blacks in the nation’s cities. Young addressed issues in housing, unemployment, welfare, educational inequality, and numerous other matters that defined the urban crisis of the 1960s. Because these ills disproportionately affected blacks, Whitney Young, an expert on urban affairs, joined with several public and...

  14. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  15. 10 Corporate Philanthropy and Civil Rights
    (pp. 207-236)

    During the 1960s Whitney M. Young Jr. drew from major corporations and foundations unprecedented financial support for black Americans. An atmosphere of urgency surrounding the civil rights movement surely played a pivotal role in opening corporation and foundation coffers, and the contacts that Young cultivated and the arguments he advanced for aiding the civil rights cause persuaded wealthy benefactors to fund the black freedom struggle.

    When Young became executive director of the National Urban League in 1961, he inherited numerous corporate and philanthropic contributors from his predecessor, Lester Granger.¹ He increased donations from regular backers, and he solicited monies from...

  16. 11 Washington Insider
    (pp. 237-268)

    Young’s easy access to the White House where he advised three successive presidential administrations had little to do with his savvy political skills. Rather, the enormous importance of the black freedom struggle put pressing issues before Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon that required meetings with Young and his NAACP, CORE, SCLC, and SNCC colleagues. Although Kennedy usually conferred with groups of black spokespersons, which often included Young, Johnson and Nixon often preferred the League leader whenever they wanted intimate consultations about race relations. Moreover, Young accepted appointments to crucial federal commissions and drew contracts for the National Urban League with...

  17. 12 On the War Front
    (pp. 269-282)

    When Congress overwhelmingly passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in W 1964, U.S. military involvement in Vietnam sharply escalated from troop levels of 16,000 in 1963 to 184,000 in 1965, to 200,000 in 1966, and to 460,000 in 1967. Policies formulated by President Lyndon B. Johnson and the advisers he inherited from the Kennedy administration entangled the United States in a seemingly intractable war to help South Vietnam fight off invaders from communist North Vietnam. k a result, the Vietnam War deeply divided the nation’s black leaders. Before 1965, James Forman, Robert Moses, and other members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating...

  18. 13 The Ties That Bind
    (pp. 283-310)

    Whitney M. Young Jr. recognized that his effectiveness with powerful W whites depended on his credibility with the black population. Moderate blacks shared his integrationist ideology and lauded his success as executive director of the National Urban League. Invitations to address black churches, fraternities, women’s dubs, civil rights organizations, and other mainstream groups continuously flowed into Young’s New York City office. These requests reached such volume that the League leader vowed to “accept only those invitations extended by national groups—or at the most regional bodies with significant and influential participation.”! These were the individuals and institutions who believed in...

  19. 14 Home to Africa
    (pp. 311-317)

    The staunch interracialism ofWhitney M. Young Jr. never precluded broad concerns for Africa. Although he was not a black nationalist, racial pride stirred his interest in the progress and prosperity of the “mother” continent. His cooperation with integrationist blacks and whites aimed at economic development, the abolition of white minority rule, and the growth of political stability in newly independent nations. Unlike some Black Power advocates who viewed the continent with romantic attachment, Young believed that the modernization of sub-Saharan Africa would demonstrate the capacity of blacks to build productive and competitive economies in former colonial areas.

    The Kennedy administration...

  20. Epilogue
    (pp. 318-319)

    Whitney M. Young Jr. believed that racial equality was an attainable goal if powerful and influential whites joined with civil rights leaders to tear down social and economic barriers to black advancement. He inherited this perspective from his father, a black leader in Kentucky during the precivil rights era. Although different racial realities shaped the leadership of the two Youngs, the father strongly influenced how the son interpreted to privileged and monied whites the grievances of restless and disadvantaged blacks. To reconcile the seemingly disparate interests of whites and blacks, a diplomatic spokesperson was needed to mediate their differences. Whitney...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 320-361)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 362-370)
  23. Index
    (pp. 371-385)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 386-386)