Jesse Alexander: Leader in the YMCA and Inducted into the National Black Achievers Hall of Fame by the YMCA from Somerset, Kentucky

The son of Reella (Lackey) Alexander (1901-1977) and Jesse Wilson Alexander (1894-1984), Jesse Nelson Alexander, Jr. was born in Somerset, Kentucky on August 19, 1928. At the age of 16 years old, Alexander graduated from Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky, where he grew up and studied. The racially segregated Louisville Municipal College, which was a part of the University of Louisville for African Americans, awarded him a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics in 1950.

Alexander continued his education and graduated from the Engineer Officer Candidate School in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He then served as second in command of the 73rd Engineer Combat Company during the Korean War. In 1956, he utilized the G.I. Bill to enroll at George Williams College in Chicago and obtained a master’s degree in group work administration in 1958. Additionally, he pursued further studies at New York University’s Department of Human Relations in 1962 and at the Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution in New York City in 1972.

Beginning in 1946, Alexander maintained a close connection with the YMCA. Initially recruited as a youth leader at the Chestnut Street YMCA in Louisville, he then advanced to positions in Chicago, Brooklyn, and Washington D.C. His various roles included serving as a youth leader, young adult and adult leader, personnel officer, conference planner, trainer, consultant, and executive at both local and national levels. Notably, he directed the YMCA National Youth Governors Conferences in Washington D.C. and represented the organization as a delegate to the 6th World Council of YMCAs in Kampala, Uganda in 1973. Even after retiring from his position on the national board in 1981, Alexander’s dedication to the YMCA continued through his volunteer work while also serving on the national staff of the United Church of Christ in New York City.

Alexander’s work in the YMCA focused heavily on race relations. In 1968, he organized the National Conference of Black and Non-white YMCA Volunteers and Staff (BAN-WYS), a group dedicated to eliminating racism within the organization and ensuring the continued presence of YMCAs in non-white communities. He held various positions within the national board, including Associate Executive Director for Black and Non-White Concerns and Director of the Human Rights Unit and Affirmative Action Officer. In 1973, he was responsible for organizing and directing international celebrations commemorating the 125th anniversary of the founding of the first African American YMCA. Alexander wrote a film titled “Extending the Spirit, Helping Children Walk Tall,” which was shown as part of these celebrations, and also authored a book titled “Selected Black Leaders of the YMCA.” He actively promoted the YMCA’s Black Achievers in Industry program, which spread from New York City to many cities across the country. This program had great success in his hometown of Louisville. For his contributions, Alexander was honored by being inducted into the National Black Achievers Hall of Fame in 1996 by the YMCA of USA.

Maude Anna White and Jesse Alexander married on August 19, 1956, in Louisville. They had four children, two daughters, and two sons, and lived in Montclair, New Jersey, until Jesse Alexander retired in 1988.

Samples from the Collection compiled by Jesse Alexander


Alexander, Jesse N.. BAN-WYS.”Liberator,” 1970-72. (Box 1, Folder 13). 1970 – 1972. University of Minnesota Libraries, Kautz Family YMCA Archives., Accessed 17 Jan 2024.

Slides from the Autobiography of Jesse Alexander


Alexander, Jesse N.. Autobiography, 1998. (Box 1, Folder 1). 1998. University of Minnesota Libraries, Kautz Family YMCA Archives., Accessed 17 Jan 2024.