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Michelle Obama salutes civil rights leader

August 27. 2013 6:36PM
Associated Press

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(AP) Michelle Obama called civil rights leader Whitney Young one of the "unsung heroes" who helped make a more fair and just society.

The first lady spoke Tuesday before a screening of the documentary "The Powerbroker: Whitney Young's Fight for Civil Rights." It follows Young's rise from segregated Kentucky to leader of the National Urban League during the 1960s.

Young was one of the organizers for the 1963 March on Washington, which featured Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. Mrs. Obama is scheduled to join President Barack Obama as he makes a speech Wednesday commemorating the 50th anniversary of the march.

"For every Dr. King, there is a Whitney Young or a Roy Wilkins or a Dorothy Height, each of whom played a critical role in the struggle for change," she said before the screening at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, part of the White House complex.

Mrs. Obama said she learned from the documentary that Young drew from his intelligence and sense of humor to face discrimination and challenges. He worked with three presidential administrations, community leaders, business executives and regular citizens to champion for race relations.

The first lady graduated from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago in 1981.

Mrs. Obama urged the audience including middle and high school students from Washington, D.C., and Loudon County, Va., to become "agents of change" like Young and make their communities and country more safe, prosperous and free.

She told the students they could become filmmakers, teachers, doctors and business executives, as long as they focus on their education now to prepare themselves for opportunities to come.

"Whatever you do, what I want you all to take with you is that I want you to keep pushing to be the very best that you can be at whatever you choose, and that takes hard work," she said. "You have to put in the time and the energy to be great."

The documentary, airing on PBS, includes insight on Young from former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. and business executive Vernon Jordan.

Associated Press

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