Businessman, educator, community leader, and political activist Herman McKinney was born on October 2, 1938 in Klamichi, Oklahoma to Herman L. and Ozella (Harris) McKinney. His family moved to Vancouver, Washington when Herman was young child. His family was part of the Great Migration of African Americans during World War II, who left the South and other regions to find work in the burgeoning war industries that sprang up on the West Coast.
McKinney’s family found work in the Kaiser Naval Shipyards in Portland, Oregon. Herman was raised in Portland, educated in its public schools, and later attended the University of Oregon, where he was a star half back on the varsity football team. He married Norma Marks in 1959 and moved to Seattle, Washington to pursue a graduate degree in Social Work at the University of Washington. Soon after their arrival he and Norma became prominent members of the African American community after they began supporting organizations that helped promote the growth of the African American middle class. They were especially active in raising money to provide scholarships for black youth.
McKinney had a varied career. After his graduation from the University of Oregon he first pursued a career in banking. After obtaining an M.A. in Social Work, he joined the staff of the University of Washington and eventually served as Assistant Dean of the Graduate School at the University from 1970 to 1973. While there he recruited hundreds of black students from undergraduate institutions across the nation, persuading them to do graduate work at Washington. Later in the 1970s he and his wife started a successful cleaning company called Extra Hands.
McKinney was also a prominent force in the movement for social and political equality and economic empowerment from the 1960s through the 1990s. He gained a regional reputation for his tireless efforts to reduce racial tensions in the Seattle area. In 1976, he help found the Breakfast Club with Ernie Dunston, Larry Gossett, Paul Mitchell, and other prominent African American men, to mentor young at risk African American males who had been expelled from school or were at risk of expulsion. In 1993, he helped lead 8,000 people on January 15, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, to the downtown office of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, calling on the business community to invest in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.
The Urban Enterprise Center at the Greater Central Area Seattle Chamber of Commerce was a direct result of that protest march. McKinney was hired as the Enterprise Center’s first director and served in the position for 13 years. Through a partnership formed with the Washington State Employment Security Department and more than 900 companies in the Seattle area, he assisted thousands of low income individuals secure livable wage jobs. During his tenure, the Urban Enterprise Center received a multi-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Center was renamed the Herman McKinney Urban Enterprise Center in his honor in 2013.
Herman McKinney died in Seattle on April 11, 2014. He was 75 years old and is survived by Norma McKinney, their three children, Kristal McKinney Vernado, Kevin, and Kent, as well as eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren.