Whitney Moore Young, Jr. (1921-1971), black American civil rights leader and social work administrator, was one of America's most influential civil rights leaders during the 1960s.
Whitney Young, Jr., was born on July 31, 1921, in Lincoln Ridge, Ky. He received a bachelor of science degree from Kentucky State College in 1941 and a master of arts degree from the University of Minnesota in 1947. He served in several capacities for local Urban League chapters in St. Paul, Minn., and Omaha, Nebr., and then became dean of the School of Social Work of Atlanta University in 1954.
After studying at Harvard University during 1960-1961, Young became executive director of the National Urban League. At this time the League was largely a northern-based social welfare agency concerned mainly with helping black migrants from the South find jobs and adjust to their new northern industrial urban environment. Young, however, transformed it into a major civil rights organization. In 1963 he suggested that preferential treatment be given black Americans in jobs, educational facilities, and housing. He reasoned that it was not enough for the United States to merely erase barriers to equal opportunity; rather, in order to overcome centuries of deliberately depriving black people, it was necessary to begin a deliberate, positive program of uplift. He called for a "Domestic Marshall Plan"—an all-out crash program to eliminate poverty and deprivation in the same manner that the Marshall Plan had been launched to rehabilitate war-torn Europe after World War II.
Young saw his role as one of trying to maintain contacts and liaison between increasingly polarizing white and black groups in American society. He admonished black civil rights protesters against violence and at the same time warned white decision makers that, unless substantial gains were made, violence from blacks could be expected, if not condoned. Under Young's leadership, the National Urban League received grants from government and private sources to work on such projects as job training, open housing, minority executive recruitment, and "street academies" (schools in ghetto communities for students who have dropped out of regular school).
Young served on several presidential commissions. In 1967 President Lyndon Johnson appointed him a member of an American team to observe elections in Vietnam.
On Jan. 2, 1944, Young married Margaret Buchner and they had two daughters. He received the Medal of Freedom in 1969 from President Richard Nixon. His programs for integration are outlined in To Be Equal (1964) and Beyond Racism (1969). He died on March 11, 1971, in Lagos, Nigeria; he received posthumous honorary degrees.
Elton C. Fox, Contemporary Black Leaders (1970), and George R. Metcalf, Black Profiles (1970), contain chapters on Young. A biographical sketch of him is in Historical Negro Biographies of the International Library of Negro Life and History, edited by Wilhelmena S. Robinson (1968). For commentary on Young's role in the civil rights movement see August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, eds., Black Protest in the Sixties (1970). □