Whitney Young Jr.
Whitney Young, Jr., a native of Lincoln Ridge in Shelby County, was a graduate of Kentucky State University. He chose a career in race relations, inspired by the example of his father, an educator and activist in his own right, and by Young’s own experiences of racial conflict while serving the Army during World War II. His vision of cooperation rather than conflict, and building relationships rather than walls, guided that work throughout his life.
Because he was black, the University of Kentucky denied Young admission to graduate school. He went on to earn his master’s degree in social work at the University of Minnesota. Young then held two positions with Urban League chapters before being appointed dean of the School of Social Work at Atlanta University in 1954. In 1961, he was named executive director of the National Urban League, where he served until his death in 1971.
During his tenure, Young contributed significantly to bringing corporate America into the civil rights movement. He intensified his call for an end of segregation and discrimination by empowering African-American communities to work toward social and economic equity among all racial and ethnic groups. He also helped plan and implement the historic March on Washington in 1963.
Young received the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the country, from President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1969. (His father, Whitney Young Sr., had served on the commission Johnson appointed to implement the 1964 Civil Rights Act.) He also wrote two books, “To Be Equal” and “Beyond Racism.” President Richard Nixon delivered the eulogy at Young’s funeral in Lexington.