The Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial was commissioned by the Kentucky State University Alumni Association in 1990 to honor their fellow alumni. Young was an African American civil rights leader from Shelbyville Kentucky. He spent most of his career working to end employment discrimination in the United States and turning the National Urban League from a relatively passive civil rights organization into one that aggressively fought for equitable access to socioeconomic opportunity for the historically disenfranchised.
The sculptor of the statue is another KSU alumnus and fellow member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Ed Hamilton, who is best known for his statue, Spirit of Freedom, an African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington D.C. Hamilton says that he was familiar with Young’s role in the struggle for civil rights and was honored to be able to bring Young back to life and return him to the KSU campus. He wanted to show Young in an attitude of welcome, which is why he sculpted Young with his hand extended. It is Young’s foot, however, that has become a tradition of welcome for new students, who rub his foot for luck when they first arrive at the university. And they return to rub that familiar and friendly foot when they need an extra dose of luck before a big exam.