Whitney Young was a social worker, strategist, and activist. Throughout his career, he sought equity in access to housing, healthcare, and education, particularly for historically underserved populations. Young collaborated with leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., on a variety of social issues such as racial integration, social welfare, poverty reduction, and employment discrimination.
Born just outside Louisville, Kentucky in 1921, Young was the son of the principal of an African American boarding school and a teacher. He earned his graduate degree in social work at the University of Minnesota in 1947. In 1954, he became the first dean of social work at Clark Atlanta University.
In 1961, Young became executive director of the National Urban League, an organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of African Americans. Young understood that social change was dependent on political will and financial investment and garnered the support of white businesses and political leaders to dramatically increase the League’s staff and budget. In response to growing unrest in cities across America, Young also transformed the League into a major civil rights group.
Young was respected by many political leaders and served as an advisor to presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Johnson, who also presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Young passed away during a swimming accident in 1971, while attending a conference in Lagos, Nigeria. President Nixon delivered a eulogy at his funeral in Kentucky. Following his death, AIA named the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award for social responsibility in his honor.