A service for McKinney will be held at Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall at 11 a.m. Tuesday, May 8. The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Morehouse College Alumni Fund in support of higher education of young black men; and to Fred Hutch to support programs that promote the involvement of minority communities in research.
The Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney, a pillar of Seattle’s African American community, a champion for social justice and a former Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center board member, died last month at age 91. He will be eulogized Tuesday at a memorial service in Seattle.
A gifted speaker with a deep and sonorous voice, he took up a bullhorn for civil rights and served as pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church for 43 years. He had met Martin Luther King Jr. when they were youngsters; they became friends when both were freshmen at Morehouse College. King visited Seattle in 1961 at McKinney’s invitation; the pastor would later eulogize King from the pulpit of the Seattle church.
McKinney was also a great friend to Fred Hutch, serving on two separate Hutch boards from 1987 to 1995.
“Sam served during a challenging period of rapid growth and the move to a new campus,” said Neil McReynolds, who chaired the two Hutch boards on which McKinney was a member. The two also knew one another as members of the Rotary Club of Seattle.
“He was just what you wanted on the board. He listened to the many opinions presented during our deliberations and offered very thoughtful comments that helped shape some very important decisions we had to make,” said McReynolds, a prominent Seattle business leader who retired from corporate life 19 years ago but continues to work as a consultant in the area of corporate governance.
McKinney first worked with McReynolds on the board of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Foundation, an organization that oversaw the Hutch’s fundraising activities. McKinney was a Foundation board member from 1987 until 1991. Then, he served until 1995 as a member of the Hutch’s board of trustees. McReynolds was the trustees board chair from 1993 to 1995.
During McKinney’s time as pastor, the congregation at Mount Zion Baptist Church tripled in size. Located at East Madison Street and 19th Avenue in the Central District, it was, as the Seattle Times described it, “long a focal point of African-American life in Seattle.” In 2014, the Seattle City Council renamed several blocks of 19th Avenue near Mount Zion “Rev. Dr. S. McKinney Avenue.”
Outside of the church, McKinney sat on Seattle’s first Human Rights Commission, which helped to bring about the city’s Fair Housing Act. To counter racially biased restrictions on loans to African Americans, he was a founder of Liberty Bank, Seattle’s first black-owned financial institution. He helped desegregate schools and boycotted for fair employment practices in hotels, stores and the civil service.
McKinney’s wife, Louise, died in 2012. They had been married 59 years. She was director of early childhood education for the Seattle Public Schools, was a patron to The Seattle Public Library, theater arts and programs for foster and adopted children.
The McKinneys have another connection to Fred Hutch: their daughter, Dr. Lora-Ellen McKinney, is a volunteer member of the Institutional Review Board, where she taps her experience in clinical psychology and hospital administration to help assure that clinical trials are designed to include ethnically diverse participants. The couple is survived by another daughter, Rhoda McKinney-Jones, who lives with her family outside of Philadelphia.
Editor's note: The Museum of History & Industry is featuring through June 17 Seattle on the Spot: The Photographs of Al Smith, an exhibit of photographs chronicling Seattle's vibrant Central District neighborhood.
Sabin Russell is a former staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. For two decades he covered medical science, global health and health care economics for the San Francisco Chronicle, and he wrote extensively about infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. He was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and a freelance writer for the New York Times and Health Affairs.