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Brother Samuel Berry McKinney Enters Omega Chapter -- Was Legendary Seattle-based Civil Rights Champ

Brother Rev. Dr. Samuel Berry McKinney entered Omega Chapter earlier today in his hometown of Seattle, Washington. In addition to the biographical details that will follow, the Editors would like to offer their sincere condolences to his Daughters Rhoda McKinney-Jones (Spelman Alumna) and Lora-Ellen McKinney, and his Alpha Rho nephew Wade Hampton McKinney IV (Fall 1981).

Reverend Samuel Berry McKinney served as pastor of Seattle's Mount Zion Baptist Church from 1958 until his retirement in 1998, and provided the longest continuous pastorship in the history of the church. (Mount Zion is located at 19th Avenue and E Madison Street.) Rev. McKinney was a civil rights leader as well as a minister and did much to shape the conscience of Seattle.

A Preacher's Son

McKinney was born in Flint, Michigan, on December 28, 1926, to Reverend Wade Hampton McKinney and Ruth Berry McKinney. Young McKinney grew up listening to his father preach, watching him fight discrimination in the Midwestern city, and hearing national leaders such as Thurgood Marshall, Walter White, and A. Philip Randolph speak at his father’s church.

Although he had every intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer when he enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, a deep inward drive propelled him into the ministry. After serving in the armed forces, he graduated from Morehouse in 1949 and went on to graduate from New York's Colgate Rochester Divinity School in 1952. He received his Doctor of Ministry Degree from the Colgate Rochester/Bexley Hall/Crozier Theological Seminaries (Rochester) in 1975. His book, Church Administration in the Black Perspective (co-authored with Floyd Massey) has gone through numerous printings.

Even though it was more than 70 years ago, Seattle legend Reverend Samuel B. McKinney can still remember the nickname he and his friends gave Martin Luther King Jr. during their days at Morehouse College. “We called him ‘Runt,” McKinney told me during our interview. Indeed, in 1944, when they first met, King couldn’t have been more than 5-foot-7. The soon-to-be-famous civil rights leader had started at Atlanta’s Morehouse College at the age of 15, thanks in large part to the state of Georgia’s educational system, which at the time allowed students to simply take a standardized test in order to skip a grade.

McKinney grew up in Cleveland and similar to King, was raised by an intense Baptist minister who did his best to challenge racism in America. “I had met him before going to Morehouse…at our parent’s religious conventions.” Their religious background was how the two young men bonded. Their entire childhood had been conquered by the world of religion. They had yet to form their own worldviews, but while away from their families they were beginning to rebel.

“We were both refugees hoping to escape an assembly of hot air. Sons of preachers all the time. We didn’t want to listen to all that stuff,” McKinney says.

At Morehouse, King attempted to flex his oratorical muscles by competing in speech contests. However, according to McKinney, “He didn’t win a single one of them.”