April 15, 2014

Herman McKinney, a tireless advocate for diversity in graduate education and equal opportunity in corporate hiring, died April 11 at the age of 75. An elder statesman in the African-American community, McKinney started his career in banking but soon transferred to social work. He received an MSW from the School of Social Work in 1968 and began working after graduation as an assistant dean of the minority education division at the UW Graduate School.

In 1976, McKinney founded The Breakfast Group, an association of African-American men who served as mentors to young black males who had been expelled from school or were in danger of being expelled. In 1993, he led a march of 8,000 people downtown, calling on the business community to invest more in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce was so impressed they hired him to lead a new initiative, the Urban Enterprise Center, where he served as director from 1993 to 2006. McKinney is credited with reducing tensions in the city during that era by bringing race issues out into the open. He helped thousands of low-income people get jobs through a partnership between the state Employment Security Department and more than 900 companies. In 2000, he received the School of Social Work's Distinguished Alumni Award.

“It is difficult to think of anyone who has done more to advance the cause of social justice and civil rights in Seattle than Herman,” said School of Social Work Dean Eddie Uehara. “Throughout his life and illustrious career, he modeled the kind of courage, conviction, optimism and imagination it takes to be a successful agent of social transformation.”

McKinney is survived by his wife Norma, three children— Kristal (MSW ’05), Kevin and Kent—eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.