Whitney Young was born in 1921. After attending Kentucky State College, Young joined the Army Specialist Training program. During the Second World War served in an anti-aircraft company of African American soldiers with white officers. This experience of racism increased Young's interest in civil rights.
After the war Young earned a MSW 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.
In 1960 Young was appointed as executive director of the National Urban League. In this post he managed to increase the budget of the organisation and managed to create thousands of new jobs for African Americans. 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 his 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.