Former State Representative Billy McKinney, father of former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, has transitioned to the spirit world. And, by the time you read this no doubt his homegoing service will have been held. He passed at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 15, at his longtime Southwest Atlanta home surrounded by family and close friends. The 30-year veteran state lawmaker had been ill for some time. He was 83.
Love him or hate him, he was a giant on Georgia’s political scene. His impact is legendary and his admirers number in the legions. Former DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones, who served with McKinney in the legislature, called him “one’s of Georgia’s tallest pine trees.”
This writer agrees. We last saw McKinney and his beautiful wife “Miss Leola” at Greenforest Community Baptist Church for a family member’s baby blessing. Miss Leola epitomized class while Billy Mckinney was often crass. But there was a family man, servant side of Billy McKinney the public rarely saw. Instead the public knew the firebrand Billy McKinney, a mentor to many, a malfeasant to some yet always a loving, dedicated husband and father to his famous daughter Cynthia McKinney, presidential candidate for the Green Party and the first Black woman elected to Congress from the state of Georgia.
There were other firsts for the McKinneys. He was one of Atlanta’s first Black police officers. He and daughter Cynthia were the first father-daughter duo to serve in the Georgia House. Cynthia McKinney was weaned on political rallies and caucuses. As the story was widely told, while Cynthia was on vacation, Billy offered up her name as a candidate for the 4th Congressional District race and then helped ensure her victory. He was proud of that girl!
Billy McKinney was a hard-driving, hard drinking ole guard politician of the first order. He was a master strategist and a political power broker who was a sought-after counselor and who held the fate of many a would-be politician in his hands. His “slate” often decided the outcome of elections in the Black community. If you didn’t make the slate, odds were you wouldn’t get elected.
He was no media darling and didn’t try to be. He was outspoken sometimes to a fault and a bit raucous and raunchy, truth be told. He earned the label “controversial” with ethnic comments during a fever pitched battle between his daughter Cynthia and Denise Majette, who ousted Cynthia from her 4th District congressional seat in 2002, the same year his legislative career ended in a runoff loss to White newcomer John Noel. It was widely held that Billy McKinney sacrificed his own political career by putting all his energy into his daughter’s.
Billy McKinney was unfairly characterized as a bigot. Nothing could be further from the truth. Religion or race mattered not to Billy McKinney. If he felt it was deserved, a few choice words or a good “cussin’ out” was in order whether you were Black or White.
Often when a tree falls in the dense forest it is not noticed unless one happens upon it. But a tall Georgia pine? When it crashes to the earth, it often splits through the strand of other trees in full view. Such was the life of Billy McKinney. He spent that life serving and protecting. Not a perfect servant, but a servant nonetheless. Yes, one of Georgia tallest pines has fallen.
Steen Miles, The Newslady, is a retired journalist and former Georgia state senator. Contact Steen Milies at Steen@dekalbchamp.com.