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On this date, we mark the birth of Whitney M. Young, Jr. in 1921, a Black educator and activist.
Young was born in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky, and received his B. S. degree at Kentucky State College in 1941. During World War II, he served in an anti-aircraft company of Black soldiers with white officers. This experience of racism increased Young's interest in civil rights.
On his return from service, He did graduate work at MIT and earned an MSW at the University of Minnesota in social work in 1947. From 1954 to 1961, Young served as dean of the Clark Atlanta University School of Social Work.
Young was active in the NAACP and became president of its Georgia branch. In 1960, he was appointed as executive director of the National Urban League. He served in this post until 1971, during which he worked to end employment discrimination in the United States. He turned the National Urban League from a relatively passive civil rights organization into one that aggressively fought for equal access for Blacks who had been disenfranchised and discriminated against. He increased the budget of the organization and helped create thousands of new jobs for African America.
He also took part in all the major civil rights demonstrations including the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. He served on the boards and advisory committees of the Rockefeller Foundation, Urban Coalition, and Urban Institute. Young was president of the National Association of Social Workers and the National Conference on Social Welfare.
In 1969, Young was one of the 20 Americans to receive the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award. Whitney Young's many friendships with business and political leaders of the United States stirred much controversy within the Black community. Young’s view however, was that it was more important to maintain communication with America's centers of financial and political power, no matter how race relations might be in the nation's streets and schools.
A prominent lecturer and author of several books, Young completed his first full-length book, “To Be Equal,” in 1964. A second, “Beyond Racism,” was published in 1969.
He spoke out forcefully, right up to his untimely death, against the slow pace with which businesses and government agencies were fulfilling their promises to Blacks. On March 11, 1971, Whitney Young drowned while swimming with friends in Lagos, Nigeria.
African Americans/Voices of Triumph
by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1993, TimeLife Inc.