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Local Civil Rights Leader's Story Of Sitting Near Dr. King

Local civil rights leader Reverend Samuel McKinney of Mt. Zion Baptist Church was in Washington, D.C., for the March on Washington in 1963. In fact, McKinney had one of the best seats in the house: right next to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

McKinney managed the feat with a few white lies and some confidence. It started when a friend invited him into a tent on the National Mall for free food.

The food was meant for reporters, so McKinney said he was an editor of the “Zion News” – the church paper. He wasn’t questioned further and ushered with the rest of the media into the front with good seats of the spectacle.

“But I wanted to see a little bit more,” recalled McKinney. So he climbed up the steps, taking note of the more timid people being turned away, and instead said as he passed, “Coming through, coming through.” And people moved aside for him.

He was behind Dr. King for his “I Have a Dream” speech.

McKinney was one of the many who shared in this vision. He was a close friend and college classmate of Dr. King and an activist in his own right.  McKinney fought against housing discrimination in Seattle, helped organize the civil rights movement on the West Coast and led Seattle’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church for 40 years, where he currently serves as pastor emeritus.

He shared his story yesterday at King County’s commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington.