Judson community mourns loss of Dr. Billie Jean Young ’74, professor, artist-in-residence

This evening, the Judson community learned of the passing of Dr. Billie Jean Young, Judson alumna and Artist-in-Residence and Associate Professor of Fine & Performing Arts.

In a message to campus, Judson President W. Mark Tew wrote:

“It is my sad duty to inform you that we have learned of the passing of Dr. Billie Jean Young earlier today at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, Ala.  Dr. Young graduated from Judson in 1974 and had served Judson faithfully since 2006 as artist-in-residence and faculty member in the Fine & Performing Arts Division.  Dr. Young achieved a multi-faceted career as an author, poet, playwright, and dramatist. 

We are in communication with Dr. Young’s family and will provide details regarding arrangements as soon as they are available. 

Please join me in prayers for her family as we mourn the loss of one of our own.”

Young graduated from Judson in 1974 with the first class of African-American students admitted to the College, and then went on to earn a Juris Doctorate from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law.

Young’s work as a poet, author, activist, and dramatist focused on the American Civil Rights Movement, rural women, and Alabama Black Belt life. Her work as an educator has had a remarkable impact on Judson’s students, generations of young people in Perry County, and audiences on four continents.

Her plays JimmyLee and Fannie Lou Hamer: This Little Light, have contributed thoughtfully and poignantly to our understanding of seminal events and leaders in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Her books Now How You Do? A Memoir and Fear Not the Fall have, through poetry, drama, and memoir, reflected powerfully on life and family in the Alabama Black Belt.

Her leadership in telling the stories of the people of the Black Belt through art, historical research, advocacy, and activism, has inspired many to explore and contribute to their own communities.

Her investment in the young people of Perry County and Judson College through countless dramatic productions and workshops has had far greater influence than even we know.

Her friendship with authors, artists, dignitaries, and ordinary people demonstrated the lasting influence one life can have.

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 Fannie Lou 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.

Young’s last public reading at Judson was at the college’s tenth annual African-American Read-In in February, when she read Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning”.

Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope—
Good morning.

by Mary Amelia Taylor ’09
Associate VP for Marketing & Communications