April 1, 2021
Judson College is mourning the loss of Billie Jean Young, a faculty member who earlier in life was among the first African-American students admitted to the college.
Young died March 30, according to a statement by Judson College President Mark Tew. She was 73.
Young graduated from Judson in 1974 and had served Judson “faithfully” since 2006, serving as artist-in-residence and associate professor of fine and performing arts, Tew said.
Young was born in Choctaw County in southwestern Alabama. She was a graduate of Judson College and Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. She taught at Mississippi State University, Meridian Campus and Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. But Marion, Alabama, and Judson College became her home base for her creative pursuits. Young achieved a “multi-faceted career as an author, poet, playwright and dramatist,” Tew said.
Civil rights focus
Her work focused on the American civil rights movement, rural women and Alabama Black Belt life, which her plays, “JimmyLee” and “Fannie Lou Hamer: This Little Light,” documented.
JimmyLee was based on a 1965 civil rights protest in Marion where Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old black man was shot and killed by an Alabama state trooper while trying to protect his mother and grandfather as they fled attacking troopers. Jackson’s death led to the Selma march and “Bloody Sunday,” which is recognized annually in Selma.
Fannie Lou Hamer was a sharecropper in Mississippi who fought for equality and voting rights for all of America’s young people. Young met Hamer before she died in 1977.
She is the author of “Fear Not the Fall” and “Now, How You Do? A Memoir,” “My Name is Black” and “The Child of Too.”
Honors and awards
Young was a 1984 recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellows Award. She received the Congressional Black Caucus’ On the Road to Freedom Award when she led a pilgrimage from Alabama to Boston to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Hamer’s historic 1964 speech before the Democratic National Convention. In 1995 she received the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Artistic Achievement and the Lucy Terry Prince Unsung Heroine Award from the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights.
Young was named as the Judson College Alumnae Association’s Outstanding Alumna in 2002 in recognition of her life’s work. She was inducted into the Alabama Black Belt Hall of Fame in 2014.
“Her loss will be keenly felt on campus and in the Marion community,” said Mary Amelia Taylor, Judson’s associate vice president for marketing and communications, in a statement.
Young’s last public reading at Judson was at the college’s 10th annual African-American Read-In in February, when she read Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning.”
A celebration of life service in memory of Young is scheduled for April 6 at 11:00 a.m.
Judson faculty, staff, students and Young’s family will attend the event in Alumnae Auditorium. The service will be livestreamed for the public on the college’s website and will also be available via Facebook Live on the Judson College page.
The service will be available for later viewing on the Judson College YouTube channel.