Whitney Moore Young, Jr. was born July 31, 1921 in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky, near Louisville, where his father was president of the Lincoln Institute, an all-black boarding high school which is now the Whitney Young Museum. He attended Kentucky State University where he received a BS degree and was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
During World War II Young served in a road construction unit in Europe. As a First Sergeant he was responsible for mediating between African American troops and white, mostly Southern, officers, developing skills that he would use throughout his career.
After the war Young earned a Master's degree in Social Work at the University of Minnesota and became involved with the St. Paul National Urban League. He later served at the League's president of the Omaha chapter.
|With President Johnson, 1966|
In 1961 he was chosen to serve as Executive Director of the National Urban League. He took the organization from a paid staff of 38 to over 1600 and the annual budget from $325,000 to over $6 million, while changing its middle-class emphasis to one focusing on the urban poor by being one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington and starting programs such as the "Street Academy" college preparation for high-school dropouts and a domestic "Marshall Plan" for American cities.
These programs are detailed in Young's books To Be Equal (1964) and Beyond Racism (1969). They were also an influence on President Johnson's War on Poverty. Young served as a frequent advisor to Johnson, as he did with Presidents Kennedy and Nixon, and in 1969 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was also president of the National Association of Social Workers from 1969 to 1971, urging the profession to address issues of poverty and racial reconciliation.
While attending a conference sponsored by the Ford Foundation in Lagos, Nigeria, Young drowned while swimming on March 11, 1971. He is remembered as one of the pioneers of community organizing and as a gifted negotiator able to bridge the gap between corporate America and the needs of the urban poor.