'King belonged to all people'A civil rights activist honors MLK's life
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:33 PM
"The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King may be a familiar historical figure. But less-well-known is the man who loved barbecue so much that he once kept Seattle's Home of Good Barbeque restaurant open until 4 a.m. to eat his fill.First-hand accounts of the civil rights leader will bring history to life, when Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney speaks Jan. 11 at the Filipino-American Community Hall.McKinney, King's childhood friend and Pastor Emeritus of Seattle's Mount Zion Baptist Church, recalls that King kept the Seattle restaurant unlocked one night so passersby could join him. Rib joint owner Rev. Robert Collins was one of many who shook King's hand, and never forgot it.King was a down-to-earth character, McKinney said. No one foresaw that he would be thrust into history's mainstream. But he turned out to be exactly the right man in the right place at the right time. Born in the late 1920s in Cleveland and Atlanta, respectively, McKinney and King were both bright, ambitious children of noted preachers. As sons of men prominent on the national black scene, their paths crossed frequently at meetings and conventions. Like their fathers, the two formed a friendship that bridged the distance.McKinney and King entered public life at a portentous moment in United States history - the beginning of the civil rights movement.In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed school segregation.The next year, black citizens of Montgomery, Ala., boycotted that city's buses to protest segregation of public transportation. King, who was by then pastor at Montgomery's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, came to prominence when he organized the boycott. Several years later, when King proposed to enlist the support of blacks in the north, McKinney warned King about the difficulties he might encounter.I told him that he needed to develop a cadre of supporters who could deal with the urban north, McKinney recalled. They would encounter ethnic European immigrants in those cities, people who were threatened by blacks as rivals for jobs.One major difference between the approaches the two men took to protest was that King was committed to the principle of nonviolence, while McKinney was not. McKinney believes regional differences allowed him to consider fighting back. In the north I was more free - on the surface, McKinney said. The south didn't care how close negroes got, as long as they didn't get too high. The north didn't care how high negroes got, as long as they didn't get too close. In 1958, McKinney became pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church, but rejoined King in 1963 to march on Washington, D.C. and in 1965 to march on Selma and Montgomery.A strong leader in his own right, McKinney was soon active in Seattle. During his 40-year tenure as pastor, Mt. Zion's congregation grew from 800 to 2,500 members. The church sponsored counseling, education and meals for thousands. McKinney pushed for equal housing and education opportunities, marched through the streets of Seattle to protest discrimination in local business hiring practices, and was arrested in a protest.In 1961, McKinney invited King to Seattle for what would be King's only appearance in that city. King was scheduled to speak at First Presbyterian Church. The church cancelled at the last minute, citing scheduling conflicts. Both the University of Washington and Temple de Hirsch immediately offered alternate venues. King spoke to standing-room-only audiences. According to McKinney, King was impressed by the progressive attitude of Seattle citizens - both black and white. Seattle proved to be the last place King went without a security escort; several attempts had already been made on his life. King had known for years that he was on a collision course with destiny, McKinney said. He knew that he would be killed.King was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis Tenn. McKinney flew to Atlanta for the funeral, but was not the only Seattle citizen to attend. Collins, the restaurant owner who once fed King all night and shook his hand in the morning, went as well.McKinney asked Collins why he flew across the country to attend the funeral of a man he'd met once - Collins told him that he felt he owed King that much.King belonged to all people, to every kind of person, McKinney said. That's who the man was. McKinney will speak at the Filipino-American Community Hall Jan. 11 after dinner at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $12/adults, $9/seniors and students; call 842-7901. "