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Faced with death threats, local pastor pressed on during civil rights movement

SEATTLE -- The Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney is a prominent civil rights leader in Seattle. He led Mount Zion Baptist Church, which is known as the largest black congregation in the state, for more than 40 years.

But when he arrived in Seattle in 1958, he realized that for the black community, it was far from the 'promised land' like some had claimed.

"There was some people who thought it was perfect here and that put you on a collision course with them and reality," McKinney said. "It didn't matter where you were, if you were black you still had a problem."

As the new head of Mount Zion, McKinney said he was faced with two challenges: Being a pastor and putting civil rights in Seattle in its proper perspective.

"You were a pretty outspoken preacher and you were calling out the injustices as you saw it. Did you face any backlash because of that?" asked Q13 reporter Simone Del Rosario.

 "Yeah, well, there was some black folks that didn't appreciate it," he replied. "I was called a troublemaker. The phone would ring in the middle of the night, somebody had a heavy accent and would tell my daughter, 'We're gonna kill your daddy.'"

After watching two friends in the civil rights movement -- Martin Luther King Jr. and Shoreline's Edwin Pratt -- get assassinated, McKinney admitted he considered the possibility he, too, would be killed.

"But we weren't gonna let that stop us," he said.

For the reverend, his first struggle as a black man moving to Seattle was finding a place to live.

"When I would talk on the phone, they would ask, 'Are you colored?' Several times when we arrived to see a place, it became unavailable."

It would take McKinney and others 10 more years of lobbying, marching and boycotts to get open housing legislation passed in the city. It happened in 1968, about two weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

"What do you consider your biggest accomplishments, through the sixties and seventies especially, in trying to fight for civil rights?" Del Rosario asked.

"I guess I was so busy trying to do those things I didn't think about what my legacy would be," McKinney replied. "We did make progress. I think Seattle is a better place because of what we did. We still have a long way to go. A lot of people thought they arrived just by getting here."

The reverend established the city's first black-owned lending institution, housed the elderly and poor and founded schools. Now 91 years old, he is battling illness but his mind is sharp, especially when it comes to recalling the civil rights movement.