Who Was Whitney M. Young, Jr.?

The Whitney Young Honors Collegium is named in honor of the distinguished civil rights activist and Kentucky State University graduate Whitney M. Young, Jr.

Born in 1921 in Shelby County, Kentucky (about twenty miles east of Louisville), his primary schooling was at the Lincoln Institute where he graduated as class valedictorian. The Institute was a boarding school run by his father; his mother also taught at the school. Whitney attended Kentucky State College where he was a solid student and graduated in 1941. At Kentucky State he met Margaret Buckner, who was later to become his wife.

During the Second World War, Young served in an anti-aircraft company of African American soldiers with white officers. In the Army he first practiced what was to become his special talent: serving as a liaison between the African American community and the established power structure.

After the war Young earned a Masters in Social Work at the University of Minnesota. He became a university lecturer and by 1954 was dean of the School of Social Work at Atlanta University. Active in the NAACP, Young became president of its Georgia branch.  While a visiting scholar at Harvard University, he was named executive director of the Urban League, a position which he held for ten years, beginning in 1961. In this post he managed to increase the budget of the organization and to create thousands of new jobs for African Americans.

Young was a charismatic, energetic, and charming person whose ability to establish personal relationships made it easier for him to make the demands of justice. The author of To Be Equal (1964) and Beyond Racism (1969), and the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, Young worked quietly to improve African-Americans' condition in the community and at the workplace. He also took part in all the major civil rights demonstrations including the March on Washington on 28th August, 1963.

Young's call for a domestic Marshall Plan influenced the policies of Lyndon Johnson. However, in 1969 Young broke with Johnson over foreign policy. He joined the campaign against the Vietnam War, arguing that it was diverting funds from domestic programs needed by the poor. On 11th March, 1971, Whitney Young drowned while swimming with friends in Lagos, Nigeria.

The Whitney Young School of Honors and Liberal Studies at Kentucky State University continues the legacy of Whitney M. Young, Jr. though its integrated and integrative education.

"A paramount function of education is the preparation of individuals to relate themselves comfortably to their fellow men. As long as people existed in a world where they were born, lived, and died in one little hamlet, never venturing more than ten miles from home, this preparation was unnecessary. But today, in an era of great mobility and interchange, of increasing contact with people of different colors, beliefs, and backgrounds, it is imperative to so educate our children." – Whitney M. Young, Jr.