Little recognition has been given to Whitney Moore Young, Jr, over the years, a man who spent most of his career working to end employment discrimination in the United States. He was a civil rights leader who helped turn the National Urban League from a passive civil rights organization to one that aggressively fought for change.
Young was born in Shelby County, Kentucky, in 1921. His father Whitney M. Young, Sr., was once the president of the Lincoln Institute, and served twice as the president of the Kentucky Negro Educational Association. His mother, Laura Young, was an educator who served as the first female postmistress in Kentucky and was appointed to the position by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.
Young enrolled in Lincoln Institute at the young age of 13. He graduated valedictorian with his sister who was salutatorian in 1937. He later earned his Bachelor of Science in social work from Kentucky State University. While attending Kentucky State, he was also a forward on the University’s basketball team and later became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He graduated in 1941.
Young trained as an electrical engineer during World War II. He was assigned to a road construction crew of black soldiers, but after three weeks, he was promoted from private to first sergeant, which upset both sides. However, despite the hostility, he was able to mediate between the two sides. After the war, he returned to join his wife at the University of Minnesota, where he earned his master’s degree in social work in 1947.
In 1950, Young became president of the Omaha, Nebraska, chapter of the National Urban League. While in this position, he helped African-American workers to obtain jobs that were reserved only for whites. By 1954, he was working for Atlanta University as the first dean of social work.
In 1961, at age 40, Young became Executive Director of the National Urban League. He was unanimously selected by the National Urban League’s Board of Directors. Young died of a heart attack in 1971.