Samuel (“Sammy”) Leamon Younge Jr. was 21 years old when he was fatally shot on January 3, 1966, at a gas station in Macon County, Alabama, while attempting to use a whites-only toilet. Younge was a navy veteran who attended Tuskegee Institute to study political science.
On November 17, 1944, in Tuskegee, Alabama, the civil rights activist was born. His parents were both professionals with advanced degrees. Younge’s father, Samuel Sr., worked as an occupational therapist, while his mother, Renee, was a teacher. Sammy Younge and his younger brother, Stephen (“Stevie”), were raised with middle-class privileges and comforts, unlike other Black people in Macon County.
Sammy Younge attended Cornwall Academy, a boys’ college preparatory school in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, from September 1957 until January 1960. Younge enrolled in the US Navy after graduating from Tuskegee Institute High School in 1962.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Younge served on the aircraft carrier USS Independence, which took part in the US blockade of Cuba. Younge was diagnosed with a failing kidney after a year in the navy and had to have it surgically removed. In July 1964, Younge was given a medical discharge from the navy.
Younge returned to Tuskegee and worked for a few months at the Tuskegee Veteran’s Hospital before enrolling as a freshman at the Tuskegee Institute in January 1965. Younge marched from Selma to Montgomery in support of voting rights in March 1965.
As a result of his involvement, he became a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League (TIAL), two organizations that organized voter registration drives for African Americans and worked to desegregate public spaces, recreational facilities, and schools. Later in 1965, Younge traveled to Mississippi to assist SNCC and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in voter registration.
Younge was murdered in January 1966 at a Standard Oil gas station by the station’s elderly white night employee, Marvin Segrest, while working on a voter registration drive in Macon County. His murder provoked a slew of demonstrations. Three days after his death, the SNCC held a news conference in which it expressed its opposition to the Vietnam War.
Sammy Younge’s death was used as an example of black people struggling for freedom in a country where they were denied it. There were protests in Tuskegee when white county officials originally refused to indict Segrest, and then when an all-white jury acquitted Segrest in his December 1966 trial after only one hour and ten minutes of deliberation in the largely black county.
Younge’s killing, combined with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, inspired a surge in black political activity in the region, according to SNCC and black leaders. By 1970, Black Americans made up the majority of officeholders in Macon County and other predominantly black central Alabama counties.