Skip Navigation

 

Whitney M. Young, Jr., Civil Rights Leader

When you say Louisville and champ, the image of Muhammad Ali comes to mind for most folks. However, many local champs fought battles outside of the ring and one of them is the focus of this Et Cetera: social worker, civil rights activist and author Whitney M. Young, Jr.

Whitney M. Young, Jr. Birthplace Whitney Moore Young, Jr., was born near Louisville in Lincoln Ridge, on the campus of the Lincoln Institute of Kentucky, where his father taught throughout most of his childhood.

A scholar himself, Young pursued higher education, eventually earning a Masters degree in social work.

Before his graduate work, Young served in the segregated U.S. Army during World War II — this wartime experience was the springboard for his civil rights career.

Whitney M. Young, Jr., became the executive director of the National Urban League in 1961, serving until his death.

Under Young's leadership, the National Urban League grew exponentially, even co-sponsoring Dr. King’s historic March on Washington.

Whitney M. Young, Jr. with John F. Kennedy In his role with the organization, Young fought for equal employment, improved housing and better education for African Americans; he counseled Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon … and received the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, in 1968.

Whitney M. Young, Jr., died in 1971 at age 49, his graveside eulogy delivered by President Richard Nixon.

Despite a life cut short, Young’s legacy has endured. His birthplace is now a National Historic Landmark … and the site of the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Job Corps Center in Simpsonville, Kentucky.

More on Whitney M. Young, Jr.:

  • Whitney Moore Young, Jr., died of a heart attack while swimming at a beach in Lagos, Nigeria, on March 11, 1971. He was originally buried in Lexington, Ky, but is now interred in Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, NY.
  • Young's gravesite eulogy was delivered by President Nixon. He was the first civil rights leader honored in such a manner.
  • On January 22, 1944, Young married Margaret Buchner. The couple had two daughters.
  • In 1973 the East Capitol Street Bridge in Washington, D.C. was renamed in Young's honor.
  • Whitney M. Young, Jr. on the cover of TIME
  • The Boy Scouts of America created the Whitney M. Young, Jr., Service Award in his honor.
  • Young's first goal was to become a doctor, receiving a premedical degree from Kentucky State College (now Kentucky State University) in 1941. His plans were delayed by illness and changed by World War II.
  • During the war, Young did graduated study a the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1942-44).
  • Whitney M. Young, Jr., wrote two books: To Be Equal and Beyond Racisim.
  • He served on seven presidential commissions.
  • His father was an instructor and later president of the Lincoln Institute; his mother was the first African American postmaster in Kentucky and only the second in the U.S.
  • The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights has honored Young as one of its Great Black Kentuckians.
  • A memorial bronze of Whitney M. Young, Jr., stands at Kentucky State University in Frankfort. The sculpture is by Louisville artist Ed Hamilton.
Program 216
A special gathering of Louisville's Jane Austen Society, visits to the Carnegie Center for Art & History in southern Indiana and the University of Louisville's Cressman Center for Visual Arts, plus a profile of civil rights leader Whitney M. Young, Jr. Nana Yaa Asantewaa, founder of the Arts Council of Louisville, is our guest. (#216)