Son, sibling, nephew, cousin, student, bass fiddler, soldier, Morehouse Man, Alpha minister, preacher, husband, pastor, father, uncle, teacher, founder, commentator, author, actor, mentor, confidante: these roles come to mind immediately when I think of positions I knew the Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney filled at various times; a bit of research could lengthen the list. Google Samuel Berry McKinney if you wish more roles and statistics about him. Much of what I say here won’t be online.
I knew Rev. McKinney’s baritone voice long before I knew his face. I had heard him on radio. I remember the day I met him. I’d spent about two years going to a different church every Sunday. I would look at church listings Saturday, see a sermon title I liked, and visit. One Sunday I realized I had not been to Mount Zion—my oldest sister told me earlier that I did not want to go there—but I decided to attend. I loved the Sunday School—Ron Sims was the teacher of the Single and Young Married Class—and loved the order of service, the music, beginning on time, not staying all day, and I really loved the sermon. I was surprised to see so many persons I knew, some from my hometown and alma mater in Louisiana. As I was exiting the church, Rev. McKinney came to the door, extended his hand and said, “I’m Samuel Berry McKinney.”
I replied, “I know.” Never did it occur to me that he was interested in knowing who I am. That was my second mistake. Over the years, I came to understand that Dr. McKinney was interested in many people and many things. Saying “the least, lost, left out, locked-up” was more than alliteration. Using his resources and logic, he did his best on various fronts to reduce the number of persons in all of those categories.
Stories of his love, kindness, understanding, patience, wit and humor abound. My favorite story is the first time I heard him relate why he became a minister. At a conference in a Seattle church, he revealed his father was a minister, his grandfather was a minister, he was going to be a lawyer. He wanted to help people. While at Morehouse College, the theologian/professor Dr. George Dennis Kelsey explained that being a lawyer affords one the opportunity to help on the back end of justice—after a person is in trouble with the law; being a minister, however, allows one to help on the front end of justice, before a person is in trouble. The young college student Sam McKinney decided that day to become a minister. The rest is history: he helped thousands on the front end and the back end of justice.
Encouraging persons, male and female, to attend seminary was a regular task. A number of ministers in the Seattle area and around the nation chose to become ministers at his suggestion, served under his tutelage. More than any other alumnus, Rev. McKinney may have been responsible for getting young men to go to Morehouse, helping them get scholarships and contributing personal funds to their education. Although he received his degree in 1949, he received yet another award June 2017. Someone was often seeking his advice. Not always serious, he knew when to laugh, and he could make listeners laugh. He had a great sense of humor. At some point, he told some of his congregants he wanted to be cremated. One replied, “Oooh, Pastor, you’re gonna burn twice!” He laughed loudest and often told the story. On another occasion a member told me he confronted Rev. McKinney after a business meeting: “Reverend, you were wrong,” and the pastor responded, “Pray for me” without breaking his stride. Dr. McKinney teased me saying I was a doctor who could help nobody, but when he introduced me to a dignitary, he said, “Her doctorate is not like ours; hers is real.”
One of his happiest times was at a party at his home the second time Barack H. Obama was elected. I suggested he have a party election night. Surmising his reluctance, I assured him only ten or twelve persons would be invited; we could watch the returns together. Soon he agreed and said, “Bring me the receipts.” Busy with other obligations, I made my first call about a week later. Before I could finish the invitation, the guest said, “Rev. McKinney called me; he told me what to bring.” I thanked her and called three or four more persons, all of who interrupted me with Rev. McKinney had called and told them what dish to bring! (He knew who prepared which dishes and did not hesitate to make a request. I know of no one who ever failed to provide on demand!) When I checked with him, he said, “I invited a few more folks.” The last call before purchasing food: “I have a list of thirty-eight!” More than thirty-eight of us had a great time celebrating the second election of President Obama.
The pastor emeritus had great fun watching the beloved Seahawks. He had a leather Seahawk jacket and often sat in his chair wrapped in his Seahawk blanket. Quite by accident, I learned he had missed a game one Sunday. I asked two fans to please call and tell him when there was a game: I called when I remembered. This incident led to the habit of calling to tell him about television programs of interest to him. The last time I called the special about the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. M. L. King was showing.
Less than a week has passed, and several times something has happened to make me want to call Dr. McKinney only to be reminded calling is no longer possible or necessary. I miss him; I shall miss him all the days of my life, and so will many others. I have no doubt many of his words and deeds will forever be remembered. When the subject of Mount Zion arises, I know when I made my first mistake: not visiting Mount Zion in 1967 as soon as I arrived in Seattle.
~Georgia S. McDade, Ph. D