Seattle civil-rights leader rev. dr. samuel b. mckinney dies at 91 the spokesman-review

Dr. McKinney’s deep voice articulated insights on spiritual and civic matters for generations. Guided by the conviction that religious faith requires a commitment to social justice and equality, Dr. McKinney influenced a variety of local institutions.

“He has been a pillar of our community,” said Vivian Phillips, former chair of the Seattle Arts Commission, who was baptized by Dr. McKinney. “He always had such a beautiful way about him. Not only the bass in his voice, which was stunning, but the beauty of his language and his use of words – the gravity of his speaking, which always made me stand a little bit taller.”

Dr. McKinney helped launch the city’s first black-owned bank after local banks restricted loans to African Americans.


He served as an original member of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, which successfully advocated for passage of Seattle’s first fair-housing act.

In the 1960s he took part in civil-rights demonstrations in Seattle, Alabama and Washington, D.C. And he talked his college classmate, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – their fathers were pastors and friends – into coming to Seattle in 1961, which would be King’s only visit to the city.

Those actions and more spread his influence far beyond the walls of Mount Zion, one of the area’s oldest and largest African-American churches. Civic officials and activists of different races and religious denominations viewed him as a sounding board and important ally.

“The push for equal employment, housing and educational opportunities from Dr. McKinney’s bullhorn are issues we still work to solve today,” said City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who helped lead the effort to rename the street. Faith can sway institutions

He was still young when the family moved to Cleveland, where his father was a Baptist pastor who hosted visits from civil-rights leaders such as Thurgood Marshall, who would go on to become the first African-American member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Years later, he explained his career shift by saying a Morehouse professor told him that law can be a powerful tool once an injustice is committed, but that religion can influence people and institutions away from committing the injustices in the first place.

After serving in the Army Air Forces during the last days of World War II, Dr. McKinney graduated from Morehouse College in 1949 and from New York’s Colgate Rochester Divinity School in 1952. In 1975, he received his doctorate of ministry from Colgate Rochester.

In his commitment to church and community, Dr. McKinney was joined by his wife, Louise, who died in 2012 after 59 years of marriage. In addition to her work with the church and other community organizations, she worked as a teacher and principal in Seattle Public Schools.

Inside and outside the church, Dr. McKinney sought ways to help those in need achieve success and stability. In 1966, he co-founded and served as first president of the Seattle Opportunities Industrialization Center, a nonprofit community-based vocational training center.

Aundre Phillips, who was also baptized by Dr. McKinney, said Dr. McKinney always “encouraged young black youth to do the right thing … when he was around, it was always your responsibility to pull your shoulders back and get your back straight. And you also have a responsibility to the elderly people.”

“I’ve seen Seattle grow up and mature and see itself in a different way,” he told Times editorial columnist Don Williamson. “I’ve tried to be associated with helping, and would like to believe Seattle is a better, more-livable place because I’ve been here.”