Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Militant Mediator: Whitney M. Young Jr

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Militant Mediator: Whitney M. Young Jr

Article excerpt

Militant Mediator: Whitney M. Young Jr. By Dennis C. Dickerson (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, c. 1998. Pp. x, 384. $30.00, ISBN 0-8131-2058-6.)

There are more than a few students of the civil rights movement who will raise an eyebrow or two at the use of the word militant to describe Whitney M. Young Jr. He was many things, as Dennis C. Dickerson points out in this cradle-to-grave biography of the National Urban League director. He was an activist, a fund raiser, a social worker, an organizer. And he was one of several primary leaders of the civil rights movement. But a militant? Dickerson describes Young as a "moderator, compromiser and mediator" (p. 181), and he makes it clear that Young rejected black radicalism, most aspects of direct action, all separatist movements, and antiwar activism largely to maintain his place as the most conservative of the civil rights leaders. Young's conservatism, his insider relationships with several White House administrations, and his integrationist philosophy made him a target of black militants (and some moderates) during much of the sixties. "Whitey" Young, to the radical elite, was as much a part of the white, liberal establishment as Lyndon B. Johnson or McGeorge Bundy. It was this position, however, that made the National Urban League a prime target for large donations from the nation's primary fund-granting foundations and major corporations. In fact, writes Dickerson, as the sixties became more and more militant, philanthropic groups gave more and more money to the Urban League. So, why militant?

According to Dickerson, militancy is little more than a rejection of gradualism. And because Young shared the same goals as other black leaders of the movement (particularly those of Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, and John Lewis), he fits the role of a militant civil rights leader. Young differed only in style--and in his understanding that the movement must be reconciled with the social and economic concerns of the major white philanthropic groups and corporations. This is, of course, little more than semantics, but Dickerson makes it work. Young was conservative; he worked to obtain money from the white establishment that wanted their money invested in the safest branch of the movement. But at the same time, Young wanted to achieve the same goals (and no less quickly) as King, Farmer, Lewis, and the other leaders at the forefront of the movement. …

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