Reflections From Harvey Drake: Honoring the Life of Rev. Dr. Samuel Berry McKinney

Published on by Urban Impact.



On April 4th 2018, we celebrated the iconic life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledging the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Admittedly, we lost a true American. Tragically, three days later on April 7th 2018, Seattle lost a like-minded man and community pillar—Rev. Dr. Samuel Berry McKinney.


Dr. McKinney and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were classmates at Morehouse College. In 1953, Dr. McKinney married Louise Jones, an educator and activist in her own right. The couple had two daughters. 


McKinney graduated from Morehouse in 1949. Additionally, in 1952, he earned a degree from New York's Colgate Rochester Divinity School. Finally, in 1975, he received a Doctor of Ministry Degree from the Colgate Rochester/Bexley Hall/Crozier Theological Seminaries. Within the same year, he also published the Church Administration in the Black Perspective, with Floyd Massey. 


Dr. McKinney, a Baptist minister, author, and civil rights advocate in Seattle, was the beloved pastor of the Mount Zion Baptist church, one of the largest and oldest Black churches in the Pacific Northwest (1958-1998 & 2005-2008). 

In the 1960s he took part in civil-rights demonstrations in Seattle, Alabama, and Washington, D.C. During this time, he talked his college classmate, Martin, into coming to Seattle in 1961, which would be Dr. King’s only visit to our city. 


By the 1960s McKinney became one of the most powerful voices for civil-rights in Seattle, participating in demonstrations for equality in housing, employment, and education. In 1965 McKinney joined in the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights march which pressured the U.S. Congress to enact the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In the mid-1980s, Dr. McKinney was arrested while protesting Apartheid outside the South African consul’s house in Seattle. He also chaired the Washington State Rainbow Coalition.  


While at Mt. Zion, Dr. McKinney established numerous programs that assisted the Black community including the Mt. Zion Baptist Church Credit Union, Liberty Bank—the first Black-owned bank in Seattle.  He also was the first Black president of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. A brilliant visionary, Dr. McKinney acted as founder and president of many organizations: the Seattle Opportunity Industrialization Center, the Mt. Zion Pre-School and Kindergarten, and the Ethnic School (later the Louise Jones McKinney Learning Center). Completed in 1998, he led the construction of Samuel Berry McKinney Manor. Collectively, Dr. McKinney’s devotion and work blazed the trail for economic and social opportunities for African Americans in Seattle.


An often-overlooked fact is that many of the gains made for Blacks in American happened because Christian leaders of high character, passion, and skill stepped up. Their lives are a model for any community development organization to exemplify. Since our beginning, Urban Impact has been committed to raising up leaders who take on the qualities of Dr. King and Dr. McKinney. We know that our future necessitates having men and women with high morals and tenacious fortitude to bring about radical change. Our purpose has been to raise scholarships, develop strong leaders, provide homework support centers in our local high schools, and summer internships. These are just a few ways that we have proactively prepared future leaders with a solid sense of Christ and community well-being. Truth be told, there are plenty obstacles our young people contend with. The work is not always easy and we have had some misses; however, our purpose remains the same and our resolve is strong, thus we will continue.    


A region-wide celebration of Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney’s life was held this morning at McCaw Hall/Seattle Center.