On this day in 1961, civil rights leader Whitney Young Jr. was named the executive director of the National Urban League.
Born in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky on July 31, 1921, Whitney Young, Jr. was the child of a teacher and a school principal of an African American preparatory school. Young, Jr. attended Kentucky State Industrial College and later went on to serve in World War II. There, he acted as a bridge between black and white servicemen.
He is credited with greatly expanding the size of the National Urban League while simultaneously overseeing racial integration of corporate organizations.
After returning to the United States, Young earned his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. For a few years after graduating, he worked with the Urban League of St. Paul where he worked to place African Americans in positions that were once considered “whites-only.”
In 1944, he married Margaret Buckner, his college sweetheart. The couple had two children.
In the mid 1950’s, he took a position as dean of Atlanta University’s School of Social Work. He was also still heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement and leading Georgia’s branch of the NAACP.
Young and his wife were both writers. Young wrote books including To Be Equal (1964) and Beyond Racism: Building an Open Society (1969). His wife primarily wrote children’s books.
By many, he was seen as too controversial due to his views. He is believed to have died of drowning while swimming in the ocean. Initially after his death, there was some controversy regarding whether or not he truly drowned. The Nigerian coroner’s office stated that Young, Jr. suffered a brain hemorrhage.