​Whitney Moore Young Jr.

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Whitney Moore Young Jr.  1921 - 1971

Everyone knows that some jobs pay more than others.  However, the desire to help others sometimes outweighs the need for personal gain and making money.  Whitney Moore Young Jr.'s choice to be of service to his people led him to become a leader of the Urban League.

Young was born in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky, on July 31, 1921.  His parents, Whitney Sr., and Laura Ray, were both educators.  Always a straight "A" student, Young earned a bachelor's degree from Kentucky State College in 1941.

During World War II, Young joined the Army.  While in the Army, he began to sharpen his skills as a good listener.  Black soldiers often complained about the unfair treatment they received.  Young was called upon to be a "mediator" and to settle disputes between White officers and Black soldiers. 

In 1944, Young married Margaret Buckner, and they had two daughters.  He continued his education and, in 1947, received a master's degree in Social Work from the University of Minnesota.  In 1954, he became Dean of Atlanta University's College of Social Work.  He was also Vice-President of the NAACP in Georgia.  Young served as a director and advisor on many government and business committees.

In August 1961, Young became director of the National Urban League.  Because of his leadership skills, the organization grew rapidly.  The League moved its offices from downtown areas to neighborhoods where Black people lived and needed its services.  Young started the National Skills Bank, which trained workers for jobs in industry.  The Urban League found jobs for over 50,000 workers.  As a result, the League added 35 new chapters.

Young believed that the best way him to help Black Americans was to work with powerful government and business leaders.  As an advisor to many government leaders, including Presidents, Young was able to help change unfair laws.  His friendship with Henry Ford II and other powerful business leaders allowed him to increase the Urban League's budget from $300,000 in 1961, to $35 million in 1971.  From 1966 to 1969, Young's efforts enabled the Urban League to receive $6.6 million from the Ford Foundation.

In the role of advisor and spokesman for Black Americans, Young tried to bring about a better understanding between the races.  Fearing the loss of money and support, the Urban League did not actively participate in the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960's.  The Urban League did, however, lend its moral support and influence to the civil rights struggle when needed.  In 1963, Young and the country's Black leaders met on important civil rights issues.  From this meeting, he formed the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership.

In 1963, over 250,000 people attended the historic "March on Washington" which Young helped plan.  Speaking to the crowd, Young said, "Although each organization has its own unique role to fulfill within the movement, we are all united as never before on the goal of securing first class citizenship for all Americans--now!"

Whitney Moore Young, Jr. was at his best when meeting with congressmen, Presidents, and business leaders.  No civil rights leader could match his use of words and his ability to get things done.  Young wrote two important books, To Be Equal, in 1964, and Beyond Racism: Building an Open Society, in 1969.

Young received honorary doctorate degrees from several universities.  In 1969, he received the Medal of Freedom.  But, Whitney Moore Young Jr., drowned while swimming in Lagos, Nigeria, on March 11, 1971.  He left behind his wife, Margaret, and two daughters.  Although Young's life was short, he led Black Americans to better jobs, better housing, and educational improvements.

Excerpt from A Gift of Heritage Black Civil Rights Leaders.

This is only a summary of the life of Whitney Moore Young Jr.