Saturday, December 31, 2016

Dr. Reverend Samuel McKinney - Pastor Emeritus Mount Zion Baptist Church

Today, I'm honored to be with Reverend Dr. Samuel McKinney in his home. We're going to talk about the role of the Central Area in his ministry and the changes he's seen in the neighborhood.  So, you came to the Central Area in about 1958?

Dr. Rev. Samuel McKinney. Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

Yes, I moved in officially as Pastor the first Sunday in February in 1958. The Central Area was changing then and it continues to change.

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. My father was a Baptist Pastor there for 34 and a half years at the Antioch Baptist Church. Prior to that, he was pastor of the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Flint, Michigan when my brother and I were born. (see: Rev. Wade Hampton McKinney, bio)

My father was a native of Georgia. During and after World War I, there was a big migration

The Great Migration

…of Blacks from the South to the North. (Also) a lot of people had been coming into the country from Europe prior to World War I but with the German U-Boats and all of that, that stopped. They (factory owners) had to look for people to work in the factories. And the (boll) weevil had done a job on the cotton crop (so) one place where there was labor, was in the south with all the Black folks. So many of them headed north.

Rev. McKinney's parents. Collection Rev. McKinney

It was not an easy journey for some, but father grew up about 60 some miles from Atlanta (Georgia). (So many) folks were leaving the farm that when they went to Atlanta to catch a train, they had to buy a round trip ticket so they're not raising (suspicions). They were still semi-slaves in Atlanta in that kind of system (sharecropping).

My father was number seven of twelve. There were two sisters just older than he who died as kids so that sort of made him the the elder of the group behind him. We grew up having (his) one brother in Detroit and three sisters. Another sister in our family in Columbus, Ohio. And we were in Cleveland. They worked in an automobile factory.  Ford (Motor Company) was bringing folks in.

How then how did you end up in Seattle?

I was a pastor of a church in Providence, Rhode Island, of all places. The Church (Mt. Zion, in Seattle) was looking for a pastor. Somehow they got a hold of my name and I think they'd looked at three or four others first before they looked at me and I think they'd reached that point where they were "We'll take anybody in." (laughs)

Well, I imagine you were definitely the best choice.

Well… Let's see, (I) came out here to candidate for the church, that's was the language they used, (on the) first two Sundays in November, 1957 (during the) first part of the week. I stayed here two Sundays. Folks were looking me over then I noticed the shift in the kind of questions that (we’re being asked). Prior to that, they were asking, "If you come, would you do this, that..." Then it changed to, "When you come." Yes.

Having come from Cleveland what was your impression of Seattle?

I didn't come directly from Cleveland, I came from Providence, Rhode Island and as far as my wife was concerned, any place was better than Providence. Yes.

Mt. Zion Church  Photo: Madeline Crowley ©
How did it feel when you first came to the church? What was your emotional impression of the community?

I was open for it. In '57 or '56, my parents had been in Seattle to attend a session on the American Baptist Convention and my mother was elected the American Vice President of Baptist Women.

In her acceptance statement, she said that she was a daughter, a wife, and a mother of Baptist ministers. (And) the church (Mt. Zion) from what I could understand, was not too happy with the pastor they had and so they asked questions about her son. And they told me about the visit here and I started getting inquiries (from Mt. Zion) and I answered them. Then we went back to Cleveland so my parents could see their first grandchild.

Then I came out here on the first Sunday in November. Yes, the first two Sundays in November 1957, I spent here. I saw them getting things ready because without a pastor, nobody'd been baptized in a couple months or so. They had a chance to see me do that here on the first Sunday, so I did Communion and blessed a bunch of babies so I sort of brought them up to speed. When I left Rhode Island, my wife and I with our older daughter got on the plane in Providence and flew to Cleveland. There was one couple in the church that we were close to and they saw us off.

We stopped in Cleveland, my parents and my wife’s parents had the chance to see their granddaughter. Then when I got here (to Seattle), there were over a hundred people in the airport to greet me. In the old Sea-Tac (Airport) and that was a big difference from nobody seeing you off (in Providence, compared) to this kind of welcoming reception.

It sounds like that you were very warmly welcomed.

I was, and I appreciated that. Also I figured I'd come this far so that's too far to come, not have a (laughs) just too far to come and not be accepted. Now, when I told the officers, the deacons of the church (in Providence) that I was going to be out here. I told 'em, "Going to Washington."

(They asked) "In DC?"
I said, "No, Seattle."
Then one of the deacons said, "Why didn't you tell us you're looking for another church?"

Rev. McKinney's wife and children. Collection Rev. McKinney
I said, "What would you do if you received a letter inviting you? And you (had) made no inquiry about it on your own and they were going to give you a round trip ticket to go and look and you come back? What would you do?"

He said, "Well, I would go and see what it's like on the other side and come back."

Then right after the second Sunday I was out there (in Seattle), that Monday I caught the plane out the next morning. I had a call from the wife that told me that everything had broken loose back on Providence. Providence was a place I guess in baseball you’d call the minor leagues.

(You go there to) get ready for something else. There were three of us who were pastors there who (were) all out of town at the same time in different parts of the country looking at other churches. So, all the people said, "All the preachers are trying to leave us." (laughs) So, I met with them afterwards and it was interesting because people came to the house and said, "We don't want you to leave us and all." like that. Plus a chairman of the deacons said that I should pay for going away like that (and) not telling them. So, people started coming by the house. Five, ten people. All mounted up.

In fact, my wife said she heard (what) sounded like a crowd on the front porch. She looked out there and it was a rough and tumble looking group. She recognized one fella and he said, "We don't want to come in, but we heard what 'the saints' were doing to your husband. And he's been good to us, those (of us) who shine shoes."

Mrs. Louise McKinney.  Collection: Rev. McKinney

I got along with that crowd. They told her that they were down at the Gold Bond Tavern and heard what was happening. They passed the hat and gathered about two or three hundred dollars. That was in 1957. It was a sizable amount of money. More power to them.

Well, when I came back the officers and the chairman (of the deacons) said, "You didn't tell anybody.”

(And somebody answered him), "Yes he did, he met with us and you were right there."

So you must have been glad to leave. What did you think of the area around the church?

Back then they had an old parsonage and we stayed at the old parsonage.

And your daughter was just a little baby.

She was 18 months old when we moved here.

So you didn't need to find a school. How did you view the neighborhood? I mean, how did it seem to you? Can you describe it?

Well, let me put it in a little historical perspective.

Mt. Zion Baptist Church. 1916. Collection: Rev. McKinney

The people moving north (after the Great Migration), we were following a pattern of groups that had come in before us, the various waves of folks out of Europe. The last (of that group) had been Jews (and we) found that pattern in a lot of other communities. A lot of Protestant churches and synagogues became black churches (as black folk moved north and immigrant groups moved onto new neighborhoods).
Mount Zion was (one of) three black Baptist churches in the state that were organized from 1890. There's a Calvary Baptist in Spokane, and what is now Bethlehem Baptist in Tacoma and Mount Zion.

Mount Zion was organized by people who would bring black people out here in the first place. There were people trying to get away from the south to get away as far as they possibly could. There were four railroads that ended here. Also, there were the Trans-Pacific military installations that brought people here. This was just across the mountains, they had a lot of coal out here, you know?

Yes, Newcastle.

Newcastle and all like that and quite a few black folks were brought out here as scab labor in the coal industry. And they stayed. And so the people who organized Mount Zion, many of them were out of the Memphis, Tennessee area, for whatever reason.

They were looking for something familiar. There were those who ran on the railroad and realized it ended here. I hadn't heard too much about it (Seattle). One of the deacons (who's now dead) told me he came out here as a young man from Mississippi trying to get to Russia (laughs) Seattle was as far as he got. 

Mt. Zion Baptist Church. 1920. Collection: Rev. McKinney
The people (of the congregation) seemed to be lively. I'll just give you a background of the church. It had 15 preachers (I won't say ministers) who averaged about 15-18 months from 1890, when they organized, to 1916.

Then a minister came—(Rev. McKinney gets a book). This is one view of what the church could have been this is an architectural drawing. (This is Dr. Carter) he stabilized the church around 1916 to 1925. And another fella (points to picture) came in 1943 to '42 and pulled out about 40 people and organized another church. That was not a problem because so many people were coming in during World War II that they needed more than one church. This father right here stabilized the church and it grew under him.

Architectural Drawing for Mt. Zion. Never realized

Here’s a picture of what the church looked like in 1916. (Photo, three photos above)

Oh, amazing!

This is the building they were in when I came. This was the parsonage right behind it.

The building looks kind of similar to the first A.M.E. in style.

Yeah. It was built in 1920. The Christian AME is the oldest black church in Seattle. (Photo, two photos above)

Yeah. Then this is the old church we built during the World's Fair of '62 (see below). We broke ground for this building the first Sunday of the fair. When the World's Fair ended, we laid the corner stones. We built the education room first. There's some people who wanted the church first but that was not to be. And we had quite a few, as you can see (pointing to picture), children and folks in Sunday school.

There are many organizations in this book you're showing me and education was clearly paramount since that was the first thing you broke ground on.

Yes. These two fellas right here were two of the first black engineers at Boeing. Boeing did not hire black folks, originally. Until (President) Roosevelt came out and ordered that during World War II. If you were going to get money from the government, you had to employ all people.

Mt. Zion Baptist Church. 1963. Collection: Rev. McKinney
Was the congregation here, in terms of education different than the other congregations you'd been in prior?

No, in fact, the church my father pastored in Cleveland was the second oldest black Baptist church in Cleveland. It came out of the Shiloh Baptist Church, which was organized, I think, about in 1850's by a runaway slave. Organized a church get over to Canada so you wouldn't be forced back into slavery.

So these congregations were socio-economically similar to what you were used to.

Yes. As I was saying the Antioch Church in Cleveland, one pastor there, Reverend Bailey got very close to the Rockefellers. The Rockefellers got started in Cleveland with Standard Oil.
They built a building there but that building was downtown. During the (Great) Depression, my father told me that the year my sisters were born. I can mention the year now, but they (my sisters) didn't like at one time. You know, I don't know why men have no problem with age while women don't even want to know. My sisters are twins. And they would ask each other, before a new year began, "How old are we this year?"

Now they're four of us and we're in our 80's. My brother is 89 and my sisters are, should be, 83 in February. And I'm 88.

 Rev. & Mrs. McKinney at Mt. Zion. Collection: Rev. McKinney

Now, my brother and sisters do have some dementia problems. I don't have that kind of problem. I'm… I'm a little crazy but not demented (laughs).

One thing I want to add is the church bought a bus during World War II. It went around and picked up folks on Sunday because the people (congregants) were scattered then and they brought them to the church.

In the Central Area?

Some of them lived in West Seattle near the Duwamish bend.

That's interesting. I had the idea that, around World War II, all of the black community was very much collected in the Central Area, but it sounds like that's not exactly true.

No, some of the institutions came there. One of the groups that we have historically followed into northern communities have been the immigrants. And the last group of immigrants in many of the cities in the north prior to World War I were Jewish people, so some of the large churches in Cleveland and several churches here had been synagogues and temples for the Jewish.

Did those communities interrelate at all at that time? The Jewish and the Black Baptists, as you can remember?

Mm... no. They got more integrated in some communities. They went out a little further and we came in where they had been.

Okay. So the Jewish community had largely already left by the time you were coming in?

Well, there were with us then. In Seattle, there were two areas—You see, historically, before World War II there was a little pocket of Black folks off of Madison (Street), about 24th or 25th (Avenues).

 Rev. & Mrs. McKinney at Mt. Zion. Collection: Rev. McKinney
Right. You got that. And then there was another group off of Jackson (Street). Now during World War II, those areas were coming together. And they were still in the process of coming together when I moved here.

Now, was there a socioeconomic split between those two areas that you knew of? I've sometimes heard that the people who were associated with Mr. Grose’s plat regarded themselves as different than the people who were…

On Jackson.

On Jackson.

It could have been. But when I came in, the folks who lived in both of those (areas) were considered old timers.

Okay. (laughs)

Rev. McKinney & Rev. Davis. Collection: Rev. McKinney

They seemed to get along. I mean, they came together with all these new folks coming in during World War II.

That must have been a time of great change. Well, that was before your time.

Well, this Reverend Davis, did a good job of going out to the military bases and welcoming people. Mount Zion had a church that looked like a church, so many people were not quite ready for a storefront people came out to see Mount Zion and they found a building.

At that same time, Progressive Baptists that went off of 6th Avenue South, near where the stadium is now. They just, grass root, just came up out… like they shoot out of nowhere. And about 10 or 12 churches came out of that.

Mt. Zion Church. Photo: Madeline Crowley

Now, I lived in the parsonage first six months here. But my wife was very unhappy. Back then they used the basement of the parsonage for Sunday school children. And the custodian we had at that time would go down there and try to listen to our conversations. And I caught him at it a couple of times. Then when the people would come to church for a meeting, they might have been a little early and then (would) knock on the door, "Oh, we kinda early, so we thought we'd stop in and visit with you." So we said we had to get out of there, and the church did give me a housing allowance. We bought a home on 33rd (Avenue) in 1958.

Where on 33rd was that house? Was it a corner house?

No, it was the second house from Marion (Street in the Madrona neighborhood).

The Second house south or north?

South. Between Marion and Columbia. On 33rd. Well, we were the second black family to move into that block of 33rd. And that was part of that process from the Grose’s plat to the one over on Jackson. Filling in the Central Area.

And did you and your wife feel welcomed by the other neighbors?

Ahh… yes and no. I was out cutting the grass one day and the fella who lived across the street, white fellow, watched. Then he came over, I guess he thought he was complimenting me, "I think we're gonna make it." Because he saw me taking care of the property. I say, "Yeah, you're gonna stay over there and take care o' your business and I'll take care o' mine right here. I don't need you."

And my wife came out and she could charm the horns off a billy goat. And she apologized (laughs) for her brash husband. Or something like that. What also was happening (at that time) the family we bought our house from were Jewish, named (probably Morris) Piha (entrepreneur). Their synagogue had moved off of Cherry out there into (Seward) Park. And they were Orthodox and had to be within walking distance (of their synagogue). So that's how the house was available.

I’m trying to think of the type of Jew, they were, they were not Ashkenazi

That's it. It was Sephardic. And I'd really never… I grew up in Cleveland, I knew were a lot of Jewish people there. The neighborhood my wife grew up in was kind of a German Jewish group. Out where I lived, they were more of a Russian Slavic background. So I'd not really heard of Sephardic until I came here. Where they came from (the old countries) had the shipping and fishing Industries, and that's what drew them here.

The church having its particular location and the pastor having enough foresight to go out with busses and bring folks in many of them started buying up the property (near the church). Though some had been around…

Rev. McKinney and other founders of the Liberty Bank.  Collection: Michelle Purnell-Hepburn
I interviewed Jack Richlen. Do you remember him? Jack Richlen?


Sadly, he has passed on and one of the things he was proud of was being involved with the founding of the Liberty Bank.

Yes, I was one of the founders of that.

I know! With Mr. Mr. Purnell and his wife and Mr. Garrett.


Michelle had pictures of (Liberty Bank's) opening day, so there's a picture of you and the other board members on what must have been a very happy day.

Yes, it was. It went out of existence but I ended up on the Washington Mutual (Bank) board for 22 years. That was a good enriching experience in many ways for me.

In what way?

Well, it exposed me to a world that I didn't even know existed and the banking industry. One of the first things I did when I came, it was to start a credit union in the church. Which is still going and they have 5 or 6 million (dollars). We encouraged people to buy from and to deal with our credit union. If the banks didn't want to deal with us, I said, if you want you want real integration, you show to folks that you can get along without 'em and they'll knock your door down because they want to control you. If they see that you can handle your own affairs that will make things a lot better.

That's what the credit union did, people borrowed money to buy their own homes, cars, to educate their children and do many things.

Of course, after we got the credit union started, we had to come up with some (rules) you had to be a part of the church for at least six months before you could borrow money. That was because people would come in to join your church, then go down to the credit union and to get loans. That's what we what we had to do.

Yes. So being on the Board of Washington Mutual, did you then get to see the way power works in this city?

(He nods)

That must have been a very interesting.

Mm-hm. Mm-hm. One of the persons who really helped me was Herb Bridge of Ben Bridge Jewelers. He was very helpful.

Fordie Ross. Collection: Fordie Ross

I also interviewed Fordie Ross, in his interview he was still very distraught about the fact that his church was to host the Reverend Doctor King

At the First Pres' (First Presbyterian Church).


He was a member of Madrona Grace Presbyterian.

Yes. But he was also part of the Presbytery.


He was in those meetings when they changed their minds and even recently speaking of it, he cried. It was very troubling to him.

You see, Doctor King came in '61. In November '61. Then the Seattle Center area's all torn up in getting the ready for the World's Fair. And at the time, we were looking for a place that would be large enough to accommodate what we expected.

I'm trying to remember what his name was – the Head of the Executive of the Presbytery. Anyway, he suggested the First Pres'. I spoke to the pastor. We had, it was almost a verbal agreement. And then, as we got a little closer to the date, they were getting a little nervous.

Rev. McKinney, unknown man, Rev. Martin Luther King & two others. Collection: Rev. McKinney

Yes, I think it's hard for young people now to imagine that Doctor King was, at that time, considered a little radical.

Yes, he was a little. He was. He was radical and they tried to reframe him and he did say, "I have a dream" and when he gave that "I have a Dream" speech, it was something was added on at the end, but he talked about a check that was due to Black America. And they had forgotten all about that.

Funny that.

Right. We I got a letter from the (Presbyterian) Church telling us we couldn't have use of the facilities. So we asked to have a meeting with them. And we went down there and there's a fella who was the Counsel for the Seattle PI and the Times. Big fella. 6'3" or 4". Flowing mane of white hair. A voice that could strike fear in both the judge and jury.

He was the counsel for those papers. He said, "You did not follow instructions. You did not fill out the proper forms." I told him, "You didn't present us with any proper forms. We had a gentlemen's agreement. Nobody said anything about filling out forms. We'd have been happy to do that, but you didn't say a word about that. Now you're scared to death."

Collection: Rev. McKinney
And he wouldn't back off. And I told him, "If Doctor King would be here (in Seattle), he would speak, whether he spoke there (at First Pres') or not." And I told him that we would have to tell the world what happened.

He said, "Well, tell the truth." I said, "Nothing but the truth."

So I got my car and, in fact, the word got out real fast because I got a call from Doctor King asking what's going on. And I told him.

Now, were you worried about Doctor King at that point already, in '61, about..."

No, but his trip to Seattle was the last time he traveled anywhere by himself. And he told me about how he had been stabbed in New York. Because he showed (me) the place where (points) he said he was "a sneeze away from death." If he had sneezed with that knife in him, that would have been it.

In 1965, the first Sunday in October, I was in Atlanta on my way up to Asheville, North Carolina for some meeting, so I went and had dinner with Doctor King and his family.

Then after dinner, there maybe about 20 something folks came in, there seemed to be a pattern.
A lot of his lieutenants and others, he'd been to Selma and he was on his way to Chicago.

Collection: Rev. McKinney

 And I tried… He was talking about what they were going to try to do in the northern community but they hadn't been able to do it.

I told him I grew up in the northern community and said there are some distinct differences. Said in the south, whites didn't care how close blacks came or lived provided we didn't try to go too high.

In the north, they didn't care how high we went, provided we didn't try to get too close.

And I think that is still true. And I explained that to Doctor King. I was on the last lap of the March. From Selma to Montgomery. I flew to Los Angeles. Got on a charter. Plane then flew to Montgomery and then back. And then home.

Thank you for your courage in doing that particularly with small children at home. I think one of the great achievements of this country is the Civil Rights Movement. I teach foreign students and it is a moment in American history that inspires them in their own countries.

Mm-hm. Well, we had… My father-- I said he was a minister. He had a unique story of his own. His father was a sharecropper in Paul County Georgia, which is about 65 miles northeast of Atlanta. Are you familiar at all with that area?

Rev. Wade Hampton McKinney. Rev. Samuel McKinney's father and mother.
Collection: Rev. McKinney


Well, I was in the last part of the March was from the outskirts of Montgomery from a Catholic church on the outskirts to downtown to the State Capitol.

I’d learned from my father and his history was that we had, those of us who were up north, had a responsibility not only to fight for justice where we were, but to be in support of what was going on in the south. That was a struggling in and of itself.

So, Doctor King was talking to the folks who'd gathered in his home about his getting ready to go to Chicago.

And I asked him was he going to take the same folks that had marched with him to the plantations and other places in the south up to Chicago? Well, why should he? (he asked). I said, "You'd may feel the sense of obligation but that's another animal. I was standing behind a flat bed of a truck that (they were using as) a stage when they got to the State Capitol. There was a Alabama State Trooper officer and a Police Captain from Montgomery and they were listening to Doctor King. And one said to the other, "You know, he sure can preach."

I told him, "There's some things that southern blacks and whites have in common.

And he and the others listened to that. I said, "Now, when he gets to Chicago, where there are all these various ethnic groups that have migrated from Europe it's going to be a different story." Yes, because the people…

Collection: Rev. McKinney

(phone rings – short break taken)

Where were we?

Immigrants in Chicago, I think. (pause) We could jump to the fact that you knew Doctor King when you were younger.

We were in the same freshman class in college.

We're you good friends?

Yes. I had met him prior to going to college. His father was a minister as was mine. So we
went to meetings with our parents sometimes and as kids, we were trying to escape the assembly of hot air.


(Laughs) So, when we saw each other, we knew the other. His father is well known and mine was, too, and (then later when) we entered college, in let's see, September 1944. He was 15.


Rev. McKinney. Collection: Rev. McKinney

World War II was on and the State of Georgia came up with an idea of (moving people through school) and he put it into practice, if you took a test in the 11th grade and passed it, you could bypass the 12th grade and go to regulated college. And that's what he did.

He and his sister, who was a surviving member of the family, the oldest child. (Also) came (to college) and they went to school together. And he was 19 when he graduated.

I was 17, my birthday's in December, when I turned 18 the appointment (draft) was on me.

And it eventually caught up with me. There were, I think, over 400 of us that had entered as freshmen but each month, military was drafting and taking somebody (from each class). There were I think about 50 upperclassmen (remaining) that had entered college (that year). And so some of us decided that (since) we had the numbers on our side, there wouldn't be any hazing of freshmen. And so I was considered one of those loud and northern troublemakers.


Rev. McKinney in his study. Collection: Rev. McKinney

And was accused of fomenting some of that.

Doctor King is interesting, too. If I remember correctly, he took part in several oratorical contests. And you may not believe this, it's hard to believe, that he didn't win.

Wow. Must have been some very stiff competition then.

Yes, and the people that beat him were not going into what you might call a 'talking professions' like education and all ministry, they were going into medicine, music, and other things. (They) wouldn't be talking on a regular basis (professionally).

But he was the right person in the right place at the right time...

Yeah, he carried a great burden.

…to do what he did. It's interesting also that I saw him (pauses) well, several times after '65, and he told me that he's glad that I talked to him because I helped to prepare him for his trip to the north because I think I was saying (earlier) that (the difference between the North and the South) various immigrants from Italy, all over Europe and (would) say to black folks, "What's your preacher hollering about?"  (There were) some whites who knew that tradition and environment but…

…but didn’t know or understand that particular cadence.

Yeah. These others (in the North) that didn't (understand the style of southern preacher delivery). At the same time, there were those in the north like Adam Clayton Powell, who says, "I don't need you up here. I'll go over there (in the South) and support you, but Harlem is mine." (laughs) So he (Dr. King) ran into that territorial thing. Then he became after his death, he symbolized The Struggle for of all of us, even more.

Steve Dunwell/Getty Images.

How is it for you that Dr. King became a symbol? You knew Dr. King as a young person with all that energy and all the things that come with that energy? Because the person you must have known gets lost in the smoothing over with becoming a symbol. The humanity gets lost, by definition, when you become a symbol.

I don't think he lost his (humanity) when came here.

I meant over time. You don't think being a symbol changed how the person that you remember (was perceived)?

It impacted it, no doubt about it. Not only him but those around him. Because when he was here the Presbyterian Church turned its back on him because a lot of the press was trying to make a lot of out of that (his appearances in Seattle). He (also) spoke at the University of Washington.

And Garfield (High School).

Garfield High. Collection: Carver Gayton
Two assemblies at Garfield. There were some white parents who got on the Superintendent of the schools about having that ‘trouble maker.’ (He) addresses the kids and now there's some kids that went to Garfield (saying,) Oh, I heard you speaking on…

…like Aaron Dixon and Mike Tagawa.

Collection: Rev. McKinney

Mm-hm. And I remember marching in to the outskirts of Montgomery down to the State Capitol. We were going through downtown. It was towards noon, and so a lot of the people that worked in the offices were out on the sidewalk. Whites, you know, some of them cussing. I remember three white young girls that (pauses) their body language spoke for them. Then, Harry Belafonte ran by trying up to the front and those girls said, Oh, there’s Harry! (laughs) They said, "He is here, he is in this March." But they had room for who they considered The Exception. That’s the idea that you’re not like the rest of them.

Was that a factor in your life, too? Did you get treated like an exception a lot?

In a sense.

How does that feel?

Depends upon the circumstances. You know (pauses) gangs are not new. They've been around a long time. The Longfields are gang. Everybody. And I tried to join them. The gang in Cleveland.


They told me that they didn't want me, they didn't need me. Then they said the thing that was most important, ain't nobody gonna mess with you. So I was never chased out of any part of (the area)

Rev. Samuel McKinney & family. Collection: Rev. McKinney

I've heard similar stories, even Mona Lake Jones and I talked about this, too. It's one of the invisible things to the mainstream culture that even among the street people, if they see someone exceptional, they kind of, or at least used to, try and protect that person from what's going on in the streets so that they can become a successful athlete or go to college. It's one of those unsung things but it's true.

Yes. My father was an outspoken person when it came to these things and so even before television, he was well known and respected. That didn't bother my brother. In fact, there were two young men who are ministers now. I was in Nashville and spoke to a group of theological students at Vanderbilt (University), and these two young men wanted to talk to me afterwards.

They asked me, "How do you survive in the ministry when you are the son of a well known father?" (I said,) "Well, I don't have you're problem. My brother has it, I don't. (He had) his father's name, full name." So my brother was Wade Hampton McKinney III. His son is the IV. I said, "I don't have that problem." They had to find a name for me because of my brother was given my father's name. They were looking for the next child to be Virginia Ruth. And I showed up.

Rev. Samuel McKinney. Collection: Rev. McKinney

(Laughs) So we could have had a pastor here called Virginia…

(laughs) Maybe now, but not then. I was given my grandfather’s name, Samuel. My father had to register me and all like that. He asked his wife how much of my grandfather’s name (to choose) which was Samuel Timothy Berry. She said, all of it. He said, that’s too much. So they dropped the Tim. That was all right.

I have to make a name for myself. I’m so glad that I did end up out here (in Seattle). It was a place where you could do a lot of things and be your own self. Having a well-known parent can also (long pause)…

(For example,) there was one lady when I was growing up, I could not stand her. She was nosy. If I saw her somewhere and I was not behaving, as I should, according to her, the word beat me home. Sometimes I had to go back and apologize to folks for things I said. (At the time, I was) trying to be getting along with brothers in the street.

When I finished theological seminary in Rochester NY, I went back to Cleveland. For two years I assisted my father. I finished seminary in 1952 and ’53. In ‘53 I got married. While I was assisting my father we had to go to Columbus, the state capitol of Ohio where the State Penitentiary is.

There was one young fellow who said, ‘Where you been? I haven’t seen you.’
‘Oh, I’ve been in Columbus.’ Then we were asking, were you matriculating or trickulating?

(laughs) We went there to visit a young man who had grown up in the church. He was supposed to be executed. Fortunately he wasn’t, he passed not too long ago but he didn’t get out. So we went down there. The word got around, it gets around real fast in those institutions that there were visitors there. I was surprised at the number of fellows that I knew, that I had grown up with who I saw (in there). They told of others that were there in various categories of being shut down. There was one fellow who lived on the same street as us. When were growing up, we didn’t have air conditioning. You’d sit outside on the front porch. My brother and I had to be back and on the steps at a certain time. (The fellow in prison from our street, said) we teased you about that. I said, yeah, I remember that. (He continued) Now, if I’d had somebody who had me come back to the steps, I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t be who I am right now.

Collection: Rev. McKinney

After my father passed, we were sitting around the dining room table talking and reminiscing. My father’s church was right across the street from elementary school I attended. My mother was at the school just about everyday. I didn’t like that, you know, when you’re a boy and your momma’s at school all the time. But my mother told me, if I had not gone up to school they were going to put you in Special Education. I said, I didn’t qualify. I was ahead of the lessons. She said that was part of the problem; I got unknown genius. So, everyday I got my lessons out of the way so fast, I had time for some devilment and mischief on my hands. That was a problem.

Well, you wanted to run around. Mischief is attractive.

Yes, but as we see now being a black boy (pauses) It’s only by… if my mother hadn’t done some of those things, or if people hadn’t looked out for me (pauses). Even when I got older and got into places and I heard, What are you doing in here?

Places like bars or places with music? You mean, they’d give you the unwelcome mat because they knew who you were?

Mmhmmm. It wasn’t mean. It wasn’t full of hate, they got me out the back door when police were coming in the front door.

Rev. Samuel McKinney. Collection: Rev. McKinney

To protect your family?

Mmmhmm. Then as I got a little older and got a little more sense because sense doesn’t always come automatically…

…no, it takes its own sweet time. (laughs)

 (laughs) And there are some places it never gets, it never gets there.

I was fortunate. People expected my brother to be ‘the one’ because looked like my father and he had the name, but he was determined he was going to be himself.

I had no problem with being… with coming out here.

One other thing I wanted to talk to you about in the fifty years you’ve been in ministry here you’ve seen the neighborhood change dramatically. How do you have a cohesive community when now there are some people in Kent, some in Renton. What has that done to the church?

It been maybe more than 50 years… After I left the Ministry and following, it split the church. There’s an old saying that attitude determines altitude. A lot of people no longer live around the church. We divided the church up into geographical districts according to zip code which is still good way to do some things. That had the church in zones. We had Deacons to keep people in touch with each other. At one time, 98122 had 4 zones out of that one zip code. Now, we only need one.

I’ve looked at how others are dealing with it in other groups. How can you have community when you no longer have a neighborhood? Many groups may have scattered all around but they still have community. I think that’s the crucial thing. I’m not putting neighborhood down because that’s what we became. I now I think there are those that have taken the Central Area. We were able use it for our own political good by having votes to get things done. But now gentrification (pauses) You look at some words like PWT, do you know what means? Poor White Trash, or TPT, trailer park trash. Gentrification, this is the gentry, those who feel that they are entitled because due to an accident of birth happen to be a certain color, and feel they have been automatically blessed and should benefit in every way. That’s the gentry. I see it all the way around there now.

When we sold our home, we bought it in in 1958, for $18,500. And sold it for more than a half a million. My wife said no, ‘I’m not going to dismantle this house in order to sell it.’ A lot of people came in and were more enamored with looking at what we had on the wall. That was a good house, a brick house. (Phone rings. Recording stops temporarily while photos are taken)

Where would you like to start again?

I started out in pre-law and finished college on the pre-law course, and of course when when I got out, I never went back to school.

I’m not a professional photographer so I’m just going to keep snapping away, so please try and ignore me. If I keep taking pictures I’ll get one that’s really attractive.

All right (laughs). My father was Chairman of the Draft Board during WWII by the church. All the communities were divided up into Draft Boards. We lived in another neighborhood; my brother actually volunteered because he wanted to be a flyer, he wanted to be a Tuskegee Airman. He wanted to be…

Oh, really! But he didn’t make it?

No. He became part of that and ended up as he ended up as a tail gunner. Neither of us saw any active duty, but we qualified with the Tuskegee Airmen. Now, I could be in the group if I wanted to because when I was in service, the Air Corp was a part of the Army. I was in the Army Corp but I got no higher than Private First Class, because I said my rank stood for Praying For Civilians.

Rev. Wade Hampton McKinney. Rev. Samuel McKinney's father and mother.

Now, as Chairman of the Draft Board my father cleaned up the neighborhood around the church and put folks in the Army right and left. Then, when I moved here I was introduced to a fellow from Cleveland, who had a restaurant right between 23 and 24 on Union. It looked like those restaurants that look like train cars?


He had one of those. My parents went out for my installation at the church. My father wanted to have a get-together with folks from Cleveland and there were about 20-some odd men. Then my father asked the question, ‘how did all of you get out all the way out from Cleveland to Seattle?’ Unrehearsed, they pointed a finger at him, You!


He put them all in the service. One fellow said, I was so mad at you. I was so mad at you I coulda… But you saved my life; I could kiss you now.

My father said, ‘that’s not necessary.’

Now, back then (in Cleveland during the war) I remember getting on the bus or the streetcar and people talking loud enough for you to hear but not…

…not knowing you were there?

No! They knew you were there, saying, he’s put everyone else’s son in the Army and his is still walking the street. I went through some of that. My brother couldn’t take it. I said, Uncle Sam knows where I am and he’s going to have to come and get me, he’s going to have to work at it. Eventually he did get me but I’m glad now that I was able to finish school on the GI Bill. The first home we bought, the one on Rhode Island, I got that on the GI Bill. So, they could have taken my life but I got the GI Bill. WWII was a leveler to a certain degree. The best GI Bill the government has come up with was for veterans from WWII. With Korea or Vietnam, none of those bills have equaled the benefits (of the WWII bill).

That’s the thing, the government has become less and less generous in terms of education, across the board.

The 1%, they’ve been looking out for them. I’m glad I got mine when when I did.

It seems like you, you and your wife made some very good decisions, about buying a house, managing your money well so you kept being able to move as the time came…

Mrs. Louise McKinney. Collection: Rev. McKinney

I told her, you take care of the house, I’ll take care of the church and she did that. That’s her picture right behind you.

I was admiring that. I am very sorry I never got to meet her.

She was quite a person.

I am sorry for your loss.

And she left her mark with the school system. Right.

I think she left her mark on many many people in this community.

Church Groups. Mt. Zion. Collection: Rev. McKinney

She did. She did. You got two books over there one right there…

I drive down your street everyday I take 19th from Union to Madison

That’s been changed. It’s supposed to have my name on it.

It does. It does.

A fellow took pictures of that and put that in the book. There are pictures of her funeral in that book.

In here?

Yeah, all of this. (gestures)

This is impressive. The woman who put the work into this has a lot of love for the work you’ve done


And probably for you personally as well, this is an enormous gift. She has the even the actual, that’s great, the announcement from Eagles’ stadium (when Dr Rev Martin Luther King) That’s great.

Announcement. Rev. Dr. King in Seattle. Collection: Rev. McKinney

You know Mr. Ross was still angry that someone of Dr. King’s stature had to speak in what he called a boxing arena.

Revised Announcement for Dr. Rev. King's Seattle speech

Yes. But he spoke there and then Plymouth Congregational Church downtown told us we could have a reception after he spoke at Eagles’ auditorium at Plymouth. Of course it’s $35 for them to pay someone clean up afterwards. We said, that’s fine, then they called me a little later and said, we didn’t have to pay, that it had already been taken care of…

Church Groups. Mt. Zion. Collection: Rev. McKinney

Afterwards, Dr. King liked to eat barbeque. I don’t think he cared how much it was burnt so we went to a place on Yesler, Home of Good Barbeque. And we stayed there from about 10:30 or 11 to about 4 in the morning, and he caught the plane out to wherever he was going from there.

My younger daughter is proud of the fact that she doesn’t remember it. She was born in September ‘61 and Dr. King came out of the house and held her in his arms for a few moments. My wife didn’t think she was going to make it at first (to Dr. King’s speech) because we couldn’t get a babysitter - everybody wanted to be there. Then before Dr. King got up to speak, he was sitting next to me and he leaned over and said, “isn’t that your wife out there by the back door?” So I was able to have them bring her down so they all could know she was there.

Afterwards we went with Dr. King to Mitchell’s barbeque then, it was between 17th and 18th on Yesler, it’s Home of Good Barbeque now, it was Mitchells then. (long pause) We stayed there and people were walking in off the street and shaking his hand.

There was a fellow there, his wife was the main cook there. He’d come by to pick her up when the place closed and he stayed the whole time. He bought the place and he felt that owning the place where Dr. King had come he just had to be there (at Dr. King’s funeral). He needed to be at his funeral.

Article. Collection: Rev. McKinney

Well, I’ll bet there in the kitchen they were listening to every word.

No, he stayed out there where we were with us.

Oh, he did. Very few people get to meet someone the whole world regards as a leader.

Yeah, I arranged for him to get there (to Dr. King’s funeral). He was able to see Dr. King’s body. I was able to see him in the casket by a fluke. We went over to the church and the line was around the block. I had to go use the toilet. They said at the church, we could come in but we couldn’t cut the line. Well I went in to use the toilet and ran into as they called him, Daddy King.  He said, ‘You here all the way from Seattle?’

I said, “Yes, I am.”
“Have you seen him yet?”
 He said, “Come with me.”
I said, ‘Well, I got some fellows with me.”
He said, “Go get ‘em.”

That’s how we were able to see him in the casket. And then over at Morehouse College where we went to school, his body was carried over there. The President of the school at the time when we were there, Dr. Mays, did his eulogy. I tried to get on the campus and one of my Professors told me, I can’t let you in; it breaks my heart. I said, well, when I was a student here I knew one thousand and one ways to get on and off the campus. (laughs) There was a house that used to be the home of the President. It’s no longer there, it’s where the gym is now, that they had made it a dormitory for single women employees. I went in there in the front door and then to the back door and they said, ‘we know what you want, so I went in and went over to where Dr. Kennedy was at the gate there waiting. He said, I knew you were going to make it, son. (laughs)

Then, there’s one other thing I wanted to mention. We had a movement here, it was all over the country, OIC, Opportunities Industrialization Centers to prepare people for jobs. We helped to organize that here, it was founded by Leon Sullivan.

Church groups. Mt Zion. Collection: Rev McKinney

Was that also to help integrate construction work?

Yeah. To train people, to prepare people for all kinds of jobs.

Did it also put pressure on the unions to hire people who were qualified?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

When I was on the Board with a President of the local group here and the founder of the program I had flown overnight to Philadelphia and was coming back. On the way back, our flight stopped in Kansas City. I got off the plane and called the daughter of our church secretary to let her know that her stepfather, who was like the only father she’d known wasn’t doing well health-wise. He died shortly thereafter. And I picked up a newspaper before re-boarding the plane.

It showed Dr. King in Memphis and how some youngsters, some young people had broken into the line of marching. That had erupted things. There was a there was a look in Dr. King’s face that troubled me (see image via this link). Somehow, from Kansas City all the way back here I just couldn’t take my eyes off that photo.

When then we got back the Chairman of our Deacons from Mt. Zion was there to pick me up. He asked me if I had any luggage, this was way before TSA and all that. I said, no I was flying overnight. He said, You got everything. Good, we have to get to the television station for an interview to memorialize Dr. King.

I said, ‘What did you just say?”
He said, ‘Haven’t you heard?”
I said, “Heard what?”

Collection: Rev. McKinney

He was killed (assassination Dr. Martin Luther King), see, he was shot while I was flying back here. And all that time (on the plane) I just couldn’t take my eyes off his picture.

Then we had gone by a food counter. There was two or three white fellows in military service talking to a white waitress behind the counter and what she said, didn’t make sense. I heard her say to them, I could care less. I didn’t know what she was talking about but after I learned that he had been killed that took on… (pauses) maybe added meaning. I hope I’m not reading into it and I think I was…

I went straight to the television station. There were others there and I shared that with them. When I got to the house people had come to interview me so I had to turn around go back.

Later, I had to go to the barbeque place and help the fellow there to get funeral because he had to go, you see? He inherited quite a bit. He’s deceased now but his daughters own and run it.

Just before I retired, I got the mail and I looked at it, some of it I don’t even bother to open. It just goes in the circular file. I noticed there was a letter from the First Presbyterian Church tossed in the basket. Then, I went back and got it because there wasn’t a label on it, it was typed. I thought, what could that… what’s this about? I opened it, and it was a letter from a fellow who said, 27 or 37 years ago an injustice was paid to your people and your church. I want to apologize for that.

Well, I called him on the phone and told him I had the letter and I would come down there to see him. No, he said, I’ll come and see you and he did. He wanted to apologize for what he’d done. What I said was you’re like a whole lot of folks I know, who say I had nothing to do with it, I wasn’t responsible for it and therefore that’s it - take or leave it. I had him say a few words at a retirement banquet so that was one chapter we could close and move on.

Dr. Rev. McKinney. Photo: Madeline Crowley

Do you think those chapters are easier to close in Seattle or do you think it’s the same nationwide?

I think it’s the same nationwide. I don’t want to give Seattle credit for what they don’t have but… (laughs)

Thank you. It’s been a great pleasure and an privilege to talk with you.

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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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