Whitney M. Young, Jr.
(July 31, 1921 – March 11, 1971)
In 1950, Mr. Whitney Young served as president of the Omaha Urban League (now the Urban League of Nebraska) and was at the forefront of racial integration in the region. Mr. Young confronted barriers to equality for African Americans in Omaha, especially in employment and housing – something Mr. Young and his secretary experienced as they looked for housing in Omaha.
Mr. Young understood the need to work within and outside of the current power structure, working tirelessly to get “corporate America on board” to hire African-American workers for positions previously reserved for whites. In Omaha, Mr. Young developed a close relationship with Mr. N.P. Dodge, a prominent businessman and community leader. Together, they met with other white business leaders to remove barriers to employment for African Americans in Omaha.
During his tenure as president, Mr. Young tripled the membership of the Omaha Urban League. Mr. Young also taught at the University of Nebraska from 1950 to 1954 and Creighton University from 1951 to 1952. After leaving the Omaha Urban League, Mr. became the dean of the Atlanta University School of Social Work, remaining actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement and heading the state branch of the NAACP.
In 1961, Mr. Young was appointed executive director of the National Urban League. Under Mr. Young’s leadership, the Urban League co-sponsored the historic 1963 March on Washington. Mr. Young became a close, personal advisor to President Lyndon Johnson, working alongside other historic Civil Rights leaders, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to help pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and securing federal funds for essential employment programs across the country. Mr. Young continued his work with the corporate America, helping national companies become racially integrated, which moved thousands of African-American out of poverty and into the middle class. Mr. Young transformed the League, improving its structure and increasing its staff from 38 to 1,600 employees and its budget from $325,000 to $6,100,000.
“Social work is uniquely equipped to play a major role in this social and human renaissance of our society, which will, if successful, lead to its survival, and if it is unsuccessful, will lead to its justifiable death.”
After his ten-year tenure with the National Urban League, Mr. Young served as president of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Mr. Young challenged the profession of social work to keep pace with social change and take leadership in the national struggle for social welfare. Under his leadership, the NASW addressed poverty reduction, race reconciliation and the war in Vietnam.
Watch a clip from “The Powerbroker,” a documentary executive produced by Young’s niece, award-winning journalist Bonnie Boswell.