Sunrise Feb. 23, 1927 – Sunset July 15, 2010
by Cynthia McKinney
Billy joined the U.S. Army in 1945. Upon his return to Georgia from the European war theatre, while still wearing his U.S. Army uniform, Billy was arrested for drinking from the “White Only” water fountain.
He attended Clark Atlanta University and joined the fraternity Phi Beta Sigma.
“Billy,” as he is fondly known by family, friends and colleagues, grew up to become a socially and politically conscious young man – always fighting for justice and equality. This mind-set led him to join the Atlanta Police Department in 1947.
Billy was one of the first Black policemen in the city of Atlanta. He often reflected on walking the streets of Atlanta being allowed to police only “colored” folk, since Black policemen were not allowed to arrest whites. He readily recognized this injustice and formed a one-man protest, picketing the Atlanta Police Department headquarters on his off days, often in his police uniform and much to the ire of his fellow officers.
It was on his Grady Hospital “beat” that he met and married his loving wife of 56 years, Leola Christion McKinney. To this union was born a daughter, Cynthia Ann McKinney. Billy also had two sons, Gregory and James, from a previous marriage.
Billy made a conscious decision that picketing from the outside was not as effective as being on the inside as a part of the law-making body, helping to make laws that made sense. He ran unsuccessfully for alderman, county commissioner, as well as U.S. Congress as an independent candidate in 1982, against Wyche Fowler.
Billy McKinney was NOT a quitter and in 1970 was elected to the Georgia State Legislature after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act mandated election law changes in the state of Georgia. His position in the Legislature was accompanied by that of his daughter in 1989, as she too was elected to the Georgia State Legislature. Thus, Billy and Cynthia served as the first father-daughter team of lawmakers in the history of the state of Georgia. Billy served as an elected official for more than 30 years in the state where he was born and raised.
Many bills were enacted during his years as a public servant that changed the legislative landscape of the state of Georgia. In tribute to his service, a stretch of Interstate 285, from I-20 to the Cobb County line, is named in his honor: Rep. James E. “Billy” McKinney Highway.
Billy was one of the forgotten civil rights advocates and activists. He often joined causes for justice and equality with his then-young daughter on his shoulders. He marched with the more recognized leaders and fought just as hard with the less recognized but just as important people in the neighborhoods and communities in Atlanta.
In his younger days, Billy was an avid tennis player. He also spent a lot of time reading and researching, turning himself into a “walking encyclopedia.” His unique view of the world sometimes found him at odds with so-called conventional wisdom, but Billy McKinney was true to his principles, regardless.
He leaves to cherish his memory his wife, Leola; daughter, former Congresswoman Cynthia Ann; two sons, James and Gregory; one grandson, Coy, and two granddaughters, Morgan and Lauren; sisters-in-law Joan Christian (Thurman), Atlanta, Ga., Virginia Christion (Roosevelt “Fat”), Birmingham, Ala.; brothers-in-law Ernest Christion (Luvenia), Birmingham, Ala., Haywood Christion (Wylean), Birmingham, Ala., Eugene Christion (Cassandra) Atlanta, Ga.; and many loving nieces, nephews, cousins, neighbors and friends.
Family Hour will be held on Sunday, July 18, 2010, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home, located at 1003 Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard, while the Celebration of Billy’s Life will take place on Monday, July 19, 2010 at 11:00 a.m. at Jackson Memorial Baptist Church, pastored by Rev. Dr. Gregory Sutton, located at 534 Fairburn Road, N.W., Atlanta, Ga. 30331. Interment will be at Lincoln Cemetery. Arrangements have been made by Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home (www.williewatkins.com).
For news from, by and about Cynthia McKinney, former Georgia congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate, check these websites: http://dignity.ning.com/, http://www.enduswars.org, http://www.livestream.com/dignity, http://www.twitter.com/dignityaction, http://www.myspace.com/dignityaction, http://www.myspace.com/runcynthiarun, http://www.twitter.com/cynthiamckinney, http://www.facebook.com/CynthiaMcKinney and http://www.youtube.com/runcynthiarun.
Break bread, get acquainted and ride with former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney July 22-24
Former Congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney is coming to the Bay Area for the kickoff of her cross country Bike 4 Peace tour, and she wants to see all her old friends and make new ones. You are invited to the following events:
- Thursday, July 22, 7:30 p.m., at Twinspace, 2111 Mission St., San Francisco: Community discussion with former presidential candidate and Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and Malcolm Shabazz, grandson of Malcolm X, moderated by POCC Minister of Information JR of Block Report Radio and Hard Knock Radio’s Davey D – sponsored by Block Report Radio and Hard Knock Radio. Wheelchair accessible. Donations welcome.
- Friday, July 23, 6 p.m., at the Black Dot Cafe, 1195 Pine St., West Oakland: Potluck dinner with Cynthia McKinney to kick off her national Bike 4 Peace Campaign. Jazz musicians MB Hanif and the Soul Voyagers will perform. Bring food to share if you have it; just come eat if you don’t. Donations welcome.
- Saturday, July 24, 7 a.m., at the House of Common Sense, 1193 Pine St., West Oakland: A day-long mass bicycle ride to the state capitol in Sacramento, the first leg of the cross country Bike 4 Peace tour. Grab your bike and join them in Oakland or along the way to Sacramento – say, in Rodeo, Fairfield or Davis – or ride all the way to Washington, D.C. The tour is set to culminate with a Continental Critical Mass Ride on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010, 10 a.m., across the pool from Congress in Washington, D.C. The ride will demonstrate the bicycle as a transformational tool to solve the problems of climate change, oil wars, the health crisis and the economic crunch. Along the way, riders will facilitate community discussions around the question: How can we support each other to live true to our best values? Learn more at Bike 4 Peace 2010.