Richard I. McKinney, 99, Morgan philosophy professor

November 03, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

Richard Ishmael McKinney, founder of Morgan State University's philosophy department and a former president of Storer College in Harpers Ferry, W. Va., died of an apparent heart attack Friday while attending a conference in Norfolk, Va. The Morgan Park resident was 99.

"He had just given a stirring speech, received an ovation and then felt a little tired. He then just didn't get up," said his granddaughter, Marla Sensabaugh McKinney Smiley of Tucson, Ariz.

Born and raised in Live Oak, Fla., where his father was a Baptist minister and educator, Dr. McKinney credited the childhood stories of 19th-century writer Horatio Alger as having an impact on his life.

"Here were men who had some difficulties and were courageous and enterprising, and overcame every single one of them," he told a Sun reporter in a 1996 interview. "And I said, `I'm going to be that way.' "

He was a 1931 graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, then studied at Pendle Hill, a Society of Friends studies center in Wallingford, Pa., at the Andover Newton Theological School near Boston.

His friends tried to discourage him from trying to earn a doctorate, worried that he would meet with rejection. But he enrolled at Yale University and received a doctorate in the philosophy of higher education in 1942.

"Although I didn't know anybody with a Ph.D. in philosophy, I always expected to go to the top of academe," Dr. McKinney said in the 1996 interview with The Sun. "When I mentioned it to one of my professors, he said, `You don't need a doctorate.' Of course, I paid no attention to him. ... After I got mine, he eventually got his."

While attending Yale, Dr. McKinney preached at Pond Street Baptist Church in Providence, R.I., then taught and directed religious studies at Virginia Union University in Richmond.

In 1944, at the age of 38, Dr. McKinney was named president of the historically black Storer College, and gained it accreditation in several fields.

He sent his son and daughter to Boston to attend high school because he believed that the local segregated schools were substandard.

"The superintendent of elementary education was a guest in our house one time and very casually mentioned -- although she didn't realize what she was saying -- that she wouldn't have accredited the school our children went to if it had been a white school," he said in the interview.

In 1951, Dr. McKinney came to Baltimore to serve as the first chairman of Morgan's philosophy department.

"He was just a great man," Morgan President Earl S. Richardson said yesterday. "He was an unpretentious philosopher and a prodigious thinker, full of wisdom but cautious in his offerings. He never stopped teaching, learning, searching and inquiring."

Dr. McKinney retired in 1978, but continued teaching several days a week until a few years ago. He also lectured at Coppin State University.

"In the classroom, he was persistent," said Maryland's Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, a former student of Dr. McKinney's. "He kept asking the questions to get out of you the answers you didn't think you had."

Over the years, Dr. McKinney was quoted in newspapers about the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that outlawed public school segregation.

"Take Douglass High School, which had some excellent teachers who gave the kids a sense of self-respect," he said last year. "From that point of view, the Brown decision was not necessarily looked upon as something required for black kids to get a good education. It was just a sense then that black schools weren't getting all the attention that white schools had."

Dr. McKinney was the author of several works, including a 1998 biography of a Howard University president, Mordecai, the Man and His Message: The Story of Mordecai Wyatt Johnson.

Dr. McKinney was a board member of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Reginald E. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, and the University of Maryland's Institution Review Board.

A celebration of his life will be held at noon Nov. 12 at Union Baptist Church, 1219 Druid Hill Ave., where he was a member and a past chairman of its board of trustees.

Survivors include his wife of nearly 27 years, the former Lena Martin; a son, George K. McKinney of Baltimore; a daughter, Phyllis McKinney Bynum of New York City; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. His first wife, Phyllis Kimbrough, died in 1965.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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