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December 16th, 2009

Widow of Civil Rights leader passes

Margaret Buckner Young (1921-2009)

Margaret Buckner Young, educator, author, civic and corporate leader, and widow of civil rights leader and National Urban League Executive Director, Whitney M. Young Jr., died in her home in Denver, Colorado on December 5th, 2009. She was 88 years old.

Margaret was born in Campbellsville, Kentucky in 1921. When she was four years old her family moved to the small Midwestern town of Aurora, Illinois, where other members of her mother’s family had already settled. Margaret’s father and mother, Frank and Eva Carter Buckner, were both qualified teachers in the segregated school system in Kentucky, but moved their family from their home state in search of better educational opportunities for Margaret and her sisters, Ruby, Virginia, Evelyn, and Eugenia. Once in Aurora, Frank took a job at the Commonwealth Edison Company, at some sacrifice, to support the family.

The Buckners’ sacrifice and ambitions for their daughters paid off. Virginia became an accomplished pianist. Eugenia became a teacher. Margaret excelled at her studies in Aurora’s integrated school system, her high school grades qualifying her to attend the major university of her choice. But the expensive tuitions for several daughters simultaneously put a strain on the family finances, so it was decided that Margaret would attend Kentucky State College.

While at Kentucky State, Margaret became active in student affairs, including with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, for which she served as president, the Tau Sigma Honor Society, the Kentucky Players, and the school newspaper, the Kentucky Thoroughbred. Kentucky State was also the place where Margaret met the son of a prominent Kentucky educator and her future husband, Whitney M. Young, Jr. She received her B.A. from Kentucky State in 1942.

Margaret and Whitney married in 1944 at her home in Aurora, Illinois. Shortly thereafter, Whitney joined the army, and during World War II he was assigned to an all-Black combat engineers’ battalion and stationed in Europe. While her husband was in Europe, Margaret earned a M.A. in Educational Psychology and Testing from the University of Minnesota in 1946. After his discharge from the Army in 1949, Whitney joined his wife in Minnesota and enrolled at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work, embarking on his career in the field of race relations. Whitney’s career included serving as the Executive Director of the Omaha Urban League, Dean of the Atlanta University School of Social Work, and ultimately the Executive Director of the National Urban League from 1961-1971. His national prominence in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s earned him the highest civilian honor in the United States, the Medal of Freedom.

In 1954, when the family lived in Atlanta, Margaret became a professor of Educational Psychology at Spellman College. In 1971, Margaret became the Executive Director of the Whitney M. Young Jr. Foundation after her husband died in a swimming accident while attending a conference in Lagos, Nigeria. The foundation, established with the support of the Philip Morris Company, gave grants to scholars whose work reflected and advanced the work of Whitney Young in the area of race relations and equal

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