Seattle Civil Rights Leader Honored With Street Sign

Feb 12, 2014

A street in Seattle’s central area has been named Reverend Dr. S. McKinney Avenue, for the local civil rights leader.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed an ordinance  Wednesday, February 12, designating 19th Avenue, from East Union to East Madison Street, Reverend Dr. S. McKinney Avenue.

Rev. Sam McKinney, who is in his late 80s, was part of the city’s civil rights movement beginning in the 1960s. He's probably best known for his time as pastor of Seattle’s Mount Zion Baptist Church, where he served for 40 years, from 1958 until 1998.

McKinney had been a college classmate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and convinced King to come to Seattle in 1961. Indicative of what race relations were like at the time, the mostly white church where King was scheduled to speak withdrew its offer at the last minute and arrangements had to be made for another venue.

Reverend McKinney was often the voice of the local civil rights movement. He pushed for equal job and housing opportunities for African Americans and helped pass the city’s first fair housing act.

In an interview last August, he told KPLU that in the 1960s discrimination was rampant in Seattle against blacks looking to buy houses in white neighborhoods.  

“I just remember places we never saw and then a couple of places we saw the neighbors threaten the people who were trying to sell and we said, 'This is Seattle, this is this great liberal, open place?'” McKinney said.

Seattle’s fair housing ordinance outlawing discrimination passed in 1968.

In signing the city ordinance naming a stretch of 19th Street for McKinney, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said McKinney’s work has made a lasting impression on the city.

”We may not know many of the freedoms and liberties we do today without Reverend McKinney’s efforts decades ago," Murray said.

The McKinney street name is an honorary one, designated with a brown sign denoting historic significance. When you drive down the street, you’ll still see the 19th Avenue signs, and people’s addresses will not change.