Samuel McKinney

“We have to tell the truth whether we like it or not, and we have to face up to the reality of what is.”

- The Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney

samuel mckinney

McKinney, an original member of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, became a leading voice for civil rights in 1960s Seattle. Above at an antisegregation rally in June 1963. MOHAI, Seattle P-I Collection, Cary Tolman

Left: McKinney arranges for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s one and only visit to Seattle, in 1961. “In order for democracy to live, segregation must die,” King tells the crowd. Washington State Archives

Middle: “The frontier spirit, in a sense, is still alive,” McKinney says early on of the Pacific Northwest. After finding blacks banned from restaurants, hotels and many neighborhoods, McKinney begins a long career for social justice. McKinney family collection

Right: McKinney “grew up north” in Cleveland, Ohio as the son of a prominent minister, Wade Hampton McKinney II (right). Like millions, McKinney’s ancestors fled the Deep South between the wars, during the Great Migration. McKinney family collection

Who is he?

Samuel Berry McKinney is a third generation Baptist minister and a fighter for social justice. He was a personal friend of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. McKinney grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He heard his father preach the Social Gospel with such passion that it passed down the family tree to him. It rose up years later in Seattle. McKinney led protests for open housing and workplace equality. In 1961, when a local church threatened to renege on plans to host King, McKinney vowed to go public with “nothing but the truth, so help me God!”

The pastor never apologized for his candor or his tough stands. He once called attention to the rebellious acts of Jesus. The Lord “raised some Holy Hell,” McKinney wrote with admiration.

But the minister’s activism came at a heavy price. As he championed civil rights, McKinney and his family received verbal taunts and threats against their personal safety. Yet you’ll still find McKinney out on the streets protesting. As he told one crowd, “We’re not in Heaven yet.”