1920 – 2002
Driving force for civil rights paving the way for progress
Born in 1920 in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, Percy H. Steele, Jr. was one of eight children who fought discrimination early and often. He was bold, determined, and made a significant contribution to the development of civil rights in California. Steele graduated from North Carolina Central College in Durham and earned an MSW from Atlanta University in 1946. From 1945 to 1946 he was a staff member and organization secretary for the Washington D.C. Urban League. In December 1947, Steele became the program director of the Neighborhood Housing and the Urban League Service Council in Morristown, New Jersey. From there he served as Executive Director of the Morris County, New Jersey Urban League.
Steele made his greatest impact in the area of social work as the San Diego Urban League’s executive director from its founding in 1953 to 1963. He emerged as the pivotal figure in the formative years of the affiliate as well as one of the most significant leaders in San Diego’s African American Community in the post-World War II era. Coming to San Diego in the wake of a sizable migration of African American southerners, Steele introduced a number of innovative programs to place black workers in jobs from which they had previously been excluded. His activism, style of leadership, and vision of an interracial democracy represented a departure in San Diego, and his civil rights career personified the emergence of a new type of black professional leader in the far western states between 1945 and 1960.
He was subsequently President and CEO of the Bay Area Urban League for a quarter century from 1964-1990 where he provided leadership in the community to continue developing opportunities for African Americans.
Percy H. Steele, Jr. has been described as a committed consensus builder who worked with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Highly regarded in his profession, he was recognized for his contributions with a National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Social Work Administrator of the Year award in 1976, with a Distinguished Services award from the National Association of Black Social Workers in 1987 and received the 50th Anniversary Outstanding Alumni Award from the Atlanta University School of Social Work. His community activity and integrity were reported as impeccable and his ability to relate to people was outstanding. He had a great understanding of social issues related to race and was diligent in addressing civil rights issues. He made a significant impact on African Americans, never wavered from his values, and always operated from his own principles.
Many Percy H. Steele, Jr. Scholarships have been awarded to minority residents of the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego County. Percy H. Steele, Jr. truly did, and continues to, pave the way for progress.