The life and work of Whitney Moore Young Jr. are symbols of the value of a truly “Open Society.”
Mr. Young recognized that Black Americans’ history of disadvantage critically hindered their ability to
benefit from political and economic opportunities. As a result, he strongly advocated the national
imperative to allow Black communities to secure equity as the way to compensate for centuries of of
injustice. That goal was the thrust behind his 10-year leadership of the National Urban League (NUL).
Mr. Young became the successor to former Executive Secretary Lester B. Granger by vote of the NUL
Board. Assuming the position as Executive Director on October 1, 1961, he proposed “radical” changes
for the NUL, heightening the visibility and public’s perception of the League as a national movement.
Whitney M. Young Jr. was born and raised in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky, on July 31, 1921. His father was
president of Lincoln Institute (a black boarding high school) and Whitney’s early years were largely
isolated from society’s broader racism.
It was not until his graduation from Kentucky State College and his entrance into the U.S. Army that he
experienced his first confrontations with racism. After undergoing special engineering training at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Young, a Sergeant, was assigned to an all-black road
construction unit commanded by a bigoted white Southerner.
The problems of that time were quickly challenged by Mr. Young, who found himself cast in the role of
the “diplomat of race relations,” a role he would perform for the rest of his career. After his World War
II service, Mr. Young entered the University of Minnesota and earned his Master’s degree in Social Work
in 1947. A year later he joined the Urban League movement as the Industrial Relations Secretary of the
St. Paul Urban League.
From 1950 – 1954, he served as the Executive Director of the Omaha Urban League. He left that post to
become the Dean of the Atlanta School of Social Work, until he rejoined the NUL in 1961.
Mr. Young was married to the former Margaret Buckner in 1944 and they had two daughters, Marcia
and Lauren. In 1969, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by
President Johnson. His second book, Beyond Racism, was also published that year. His first book, To Be
Equal, was published in 1964. The year before, his syndicated column of the same title was initiated and
appeared in major Black and mainstream newspapers nationwide.
Mr. Young served in a number of consultative posts with the government, including memberships on the
national planning committee of the 1960 White House Conference on Children and Youth. He also
served several advisory committees concerned with child welfare, vocational education, and public
assistance in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Before his untimely death in 1971, Mr. Young had been involved in a variety of new activities. They
included meetings with the President and his Cabinet to urge greater partnership between the federal
government and non-profit social service agencies created to improve the conditions of Black
He was attending the annual African American Dialogue (on relations between the two continents) in
Lagos, Nigeria, when a drowning incident took his life on March 11, 1971. Mr. Young was 49.