Longtime Gifford community activist, Leon Young passes away


milt thomas

Reverend Leon Tine Young, long-time Gifford community activist, passed away on October 2, 2022 at the age of 88.

Reverend Leon Young

He moved to Vero in 1945 at the age of 11 and was one of the founding members of the Gifford Progressive League in 1961 with brother-in-law Victor Hart, President J. Ralph Lundy and other community activists. He was probably more widely known as the whistle-blower who brought CBS News to the Gifford community over poor water quality.

It was a different age back in 1945 when he moved here. According to Young, interviewed by the writer in a 2008 interview, “In the evenings, downtown Vero was off limits to black folks.”

At the dawn of the civil rights era, Gifford activists began to more openly call for change. In the 1970s, Young was particularly concerned about the poor water quality in Gifford. At the time, Gifford’s water came almost entirely from wells. “There were no street lights, sewer or paved streets. We had an old hand pump to pump water for the house. One gentleman had a deep artesian well and others could feed off that. But it was all untreated water.”

Victor Hart and Ralph Lundy appealed to the County Commission for help. Hart placed a jug of brown water on the dais and asked the Commissioners, “Would you drink this water?” He was told that no one would. Hart responded, “Yes sir, someone would – the people of Gifford.”

Young had had enough. “So in 1974 I called CBS News in New York and asked them to send someone down to do a documentary on our situation, which they did.”

The result was reported by Morton Dean on the CBS Evening News, Sunday, July 24, 1977. Young adds, “It turned out that in 1971 the state had offered Indian River County $19 million to put in central water for the whole county and the county turned it down.”

Within a year, county water became a reality.

Reverend Young retired in 1999 from the Indian River County Department of Utilities Operations. After his retirement, Reverend Young devoted his time volunteering in the community helping troubled young men and boys. Every Sunday, before going to his regular church service, he would set up a chapel and hold services for inmates in the Indian River County Jail.

Probably his greatest accomplishment though, was that he and his wife of 62 years, Lillie, raised five children and sent them all to college.

Rev. Young was pre-deceased by his wife, Lillie, and son, Marcus Young. He is survived by their children, Linda Young Thomas, Kenny Leon Young, Dr. Sherry Young Davis and Elder Terry Young Wheeler.

A wake will be held on Friday, October 14 with a memorial service the next day at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 4545 30th Avenue in Gifford.

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