Legacy of local civil rights legend lives on: 'You have to go out and do something'

SEATTLE -- When I sat down with the Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney to get his monumental life's story on the record, I didn't know it would be his last time telling it.

One week later, he lost his battle with congestive heart failure.

But during our interview, he was charming, cracking jokes and still living his life's mission.

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

"Hmm," he replied after a long pause. " I guess I was so busy trying to do those things I didn't think about what my legacy would be. I'll let you and others decide that."

For me, fair housing, education and equal opportunity come to mind.

Rev. McKinney trailblazed through Washington state and across the country. He marched with his childhood friend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Selma, Alabama. He tirelessly fought for civil rights in Seattle.

No one alive today knows this better than his daughter Rhoda McKinney-Jones.

"He was not always in the house but he was not absent," she said. "My mother did a very good job of explaining what he did and why and so my sister and I had a really good grip on the fact that our father was trying to make the world a better place. It wasn't always easy."

But for everything Rev. McKinney gave to his congregation and community, he was a father first, and his last moments were with his family.

Though he was in a deep coma, he still had one final message for Rhoda.

"I climb on the bed and I'm holding him and I whisper in his ear, 'I love you,'" McKinney-Jones said. "He opens his eyes turns his head and says, 'I love you, too.' The third day. I don't know what that's about but that doesn't happen. It was an amazing thing and those were his last words: I love you too. I get to keep that the rest of my life."

While the people he inspired get to keep his life's story.

"History lives on and daddy's history so it doesn't die," McKinney-Jones said. "Today was just a celebration of that fact because if you were inspired at all, you have to go out and do something."