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Whitney M. Young papers, 1960-1977 

Young, Whitney M,
Phys. Desc: 
299 boxes (299 boxes, 9 volumes, 60 oversize items, plus one box of cataloged correspondence)
Call Number: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

One of the most influential yet inconspicuous leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, Whitney M. Young, Jr. was born in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky, on July 31, 1921. Young spent his childhood on the campus of the Lincoln Institute, an all-black boarding school where his father worked as a teacher and later served as principal. Young attended Kentucky State Industrial College and received a bachelor of science degree at the age of twenty. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Young joined the U. S. Army, where his educational background enabled him to join three other black recruits in an electrical engineering program at MIT. While in the Army, Young married Margaret Buckner Young, whom he met at Kentucky State, and they had two children. Young quickly rose to the rank of First Sergeant in the all-black 1695th Engineer Combat Battalion. Upon returning to the U. S. in 1945, Young rejoined his wife and pursued his masters degree in social work at the University of Minnesota. It was in Minneapolis that Young first started work for the National Urban League (NUL), but he left the organization in 1953 to serve as Dean of the School of Social Work at the all-black Atlanta University. After six years in Atlanta, Young returned to the Urban League as Executive Director in 1961, a position he held until his death by drowning in 1971. Young's lifelong experiences in elite, albeit segregated, institutions placed him at the edge of America's color line, and throughout his career in the military, the academy and the NUL, Young acted as an intermediary between black groups and powerful white people. Young deployed a combination of intelligence, charm and the threat of confrontation to persuade American corporate leaders to pay more attention to the needs of urban black people. Although Malcolm X and other radical black leaders initially associated Young with the "foxy white liberals" whom they believed to control the mainstream civil rights movement, Young gained Malcolm X's respect and was able to use the threat of action by more militant groups to extract meaningful concessions from begrudging white elites. While head of the NUL, Young acted as a close advisor to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson while lobbying corporate leaders like Henry Ford, Jr. to hire more black workers. The Domestic Marshall Plan he helped to develop and pushed to the front of the NUL's official agenda influenced the social programs of Johnson's Great Society, particularly the War on Poverty. Young's ability to maintain cordial relations with the Nixon administration despite the President's hostility to the civil rights movement is a tribute to his flexibility, and he ultimately prevailed upon Nixon to allow established black agencies in America's inner cities to administer some federal urban relief projects. Young drowned on March 11, 1971 in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria where he was attending a conference on foreign relations between the U.S. and Africa.

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, speeches, reports, testimony, press releases, and articles of Young. The files document Young's leadership in many social welfare and urban sociology organizations, as well as his activities as a columnist and speaker. Cataloged correspondents include Robert F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert H. Humphrey, Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, Roy Wilkins, and John W. Gardner.