Dr. Whitney M. Young, Jr.

Whitney Moore Young Jr. (July 31, 1921 – March 11, 1971) was a civil rights leader.

He spent most of his career working to end employment discrimination in the South and turning the National Urban League from a relatively passive civil rights organization into one that aggressively fought for justice.

During World War II, Young was assigned to a road construction crew of black soldiers supervised by Southern white officers. After just three weeks, he was promoted from private to first sergeant, creating hostility on both sides. The situation propelled him into a career in race relations.

A few years later, Young was also one of the first African Americans in the School of Social Work at the University of Nebraska and also became President of the Urban League’s Omaha, Nebraska branch and helped get black workers into jobs previously reserved for whites. In the process, he more than tripled the organization’s paid membership.

In his next position as Dean of Social Work at Atlanta University, Young supported alumni in their boycott of the Georgia Conference of Social Welfare, which had a poor record of placing African Americans in good jobs.

In 1960 Young held a Rockefeller Foundation grant that gave him a postgraduate year at Harvard University, and in the same year joined the NAACP and rose to become state President.

In 1961 at age 40, Young became President of the National Urban League, and within four years had expanded the organization from 38 employees to 1600 employees and from an annual budget of $325,000 to one of $6,100,000. He was President of the National Urban League from 1961 until his accidental death in Lagos, Nigeria 1971. During his ten-year tenure at the League, he initiated programs like “Street Academy,” an alternative education system to prepare high school dropouts for college, and “New Thrust,” an effort to help local black leaders identify and solve community problems. Young also pushed for federal aid to cities. In 1963 he was one of the organizers of the March on Washington.

In 1968, President Johnson honored Young with the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Young greatly expanded the National Urban League and made the league a champion of the American civil rights movement, calling for a domestic “Marshall Plan.” Lyndon B. Johnson supported Young’s civil rights plans, but they fell out with each other over the Vietnam War.

In 1973, the East Capitol Street Bridge in Washington, D.C. , was renamed the Whitney Young Memorial Bridge in his honor.

Young was a prominent member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans.

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.