Born in 1920 in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, Percy Steele was one of eight children. Steele graduated from North Carolina Central College in Durham, North Carolina, after which he attended Atlanta University, where he completed a Master’s degree. 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 director in Morristown, New Jersey. From there, he served as executive director of the Morris County, New Jersey Urban League. Steele, however, made his greatest impact in the area of social work as executive director of the San Diego Urban League from 1953 to 1963 and the Bay Area Urban League. Coming to San Diego in the wake of a sizable migration of African American southerners to San Diego, Steele introduced a number of innovative programs to place black workers in jobs that they had been excluded from previously.
Steele was regarded as one of the major civil rights leaders in San Diego, a position that he also earned during his long tenure (1964-1990) as executive director of the Bay Area Urban League. A committed consensus builder who worked with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, Steele was also highly regarded in his profession. He was recognized for his outstanding work by the national Association of Social Workers, the National Association of Black Social Workers, and the Council of Executives of the National Urban League. Steele, a member of Sigma Pi Phi fraternity, died in San Francisco on March 26, 2002. He was 82.