Whitney Moore Young, Jr. (July 31, 1921 – March 11, 1971) was an American civil rights leader.
He spent most of his career working to end employment discrimination in the United States and turning the National Urban League from a relatively passive civil rights organization into one that aggressively worked for equitable access to socioeconomic opportunity for the historically disenfranchised.
Young was born in Shelby County, Kentucky, on July 31, 1921, to educated parents. His father, Whitney M. Young, Sr., was the president of the Lincoln Institute, and served twice as the president of the Kentucky Negro Educational Association. Whitney’s mother, Laura Young, was a teacher who served as the first female postmistress in Kentucky (second in the United States), being appointed to that position by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. Young enrolled in the Lincoln Institute at the age of 13, graduating as his class valedictorian, with his sister Margaret becoming salutatorian, in 1937.
In 1950, Young became president of the National Urban League’s Omaha, Nebraska chapter. In that position, he helped get black workers into jobs previously reserved for whites. Under his leadership, the chapter tripled its number of paying members. While he was president of the Omaha Urban League, Young taught at the University of Nebraska from 1950 to 1954, and Creighton University from 1951 to 1952.
In 1960, Young was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation grant for a postgraduate year at Harvard University.In the same year, he joined the NAACP and rose to become state president, where he was also a close friend of Roy Wilkins, its executive director.
On March 11, 1971, Whitney Young died of a heart attack after swimming with friends in Lagos, Nigeria, where he was attending a conference sponsored by the African-American InstitutePresident Nixon sent a plane to Nigeria to collect Young’s body and traveled to Kentucky to deliver the eulogy at Young’s funeral.
Whitney Young’s legacy, as President Nixon stated in his eulogy, was that “he knew how to accomplish what other people were merely for”. Young’s work was instrumental in breaking down the barriers of segregation and inequality that held back African Americans.
The Whitney Young School of Honors and Liberal Studies reflects Kentucky State University’s commitment to excellence in liberal studies education. The School is named after Whitney M. Young, Jr., executive director of the National Urban League from 1961 to 1971, distinguished leader of the American civil rights movement, and a graduate of Kentucky State University. The Whitney Young School of Honors and Liberal Studies aims, through its special curriculum, to develop in its students the qualities of critical intelligence, maturity, and leadership exemplified by Young.
Hundreds of schools and other sites are named for Young. For instance, in 1973, the East Capitol Street Bridge in Washington, D.C., was renamed the Whitney Young Memorial Bridge in his honor.
Clark Atlanta University named its School of Social Work, where Whitney Young served as Dean, in Young’s honor. The Whitney M. Young School of Social Work is well known for founding the “Afro-Centric” perspective of social work.
The Boy Scouts of America created the Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award to recognize outstanding services by an adult individual or an organization for demonstrated involvement in the development and implementation of Scouting opportunities for youth from rural or low-income urban backgrounds.
Whitney Young High School in Chicago was named after him. Whitney M. Young High School in Cleveland, Ohio was also named after him. As well as Whitney M. Young Elementary in Dallas, TX.
Young’s birthplace (Whitney Young Birthplace and Museum) in Shelby County, Kentucky is a designated National Historic Landmark, with a museum dedicated to Young’s life and achievements.
Young was honored on a United States postage stamp as part of its ongoing Black Heritage series.