State Rep. Billy McKinney, 1927 to 2010, !Presente!


This article contains additional reporting–specifically, interviews with Joe Beasley and State Rep. Tyrone Brooks–by William Cobham.

(APN) ATLANTA — Former State Rep. Billy McKinney, 83, passed away on Thursday, July 15, 2010.

He was a civil rights activist who served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1973 to 2002. He was also the father of former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA).

Billy McKinney was a tireless advocate who championed the political empowerment and advancement of Blacks in Georgia.

At the same time, he also was a controversial political figure whose comments raised accusations of antisemitism and whose actions revealed deep-seated homophobia.

He had liver cancer for several months, and former US Rep. McKinney had been back in Georgia helping care for him during the last few months despite having spent the last few years residing in California and traveling the world.

A funeral service was held on Monday, July 19, 2010, at Jackson Memorial Baptist Church in Atlanta, and many Georgia activists and elected officials were in attendance.

McKinney is survived by his wife, Leola McKinney; his daughter, former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney; two sons, James and Gregory; one grandson, Coy; two granddaughters, Morgan and Lauren; and many other relatives and friends.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Felicia Moore (District 9) recognized McKinney during the Council meeting Monday.

“We lost State Rep. Billy McKinney. He was a constituent of my district. And particularly in relation to the City of Atlanta, he was one of the first seven Black police officers that the City of Atlanta hired,” Moore said.

“He was like the sole protester. He used to get his picket signs and by himself march up and down the street and protest the conditions that those officers had to endure, particularly the Black police officers were not even allowed to arrest a White person. And when they did–and he did it–they were suspended,” Moore said.

“One of the things I found very interesting about it… He kind of made himself the target and as a result of doing that the other side of it was, every time he protested something, another one of the seven officers or those officers that were hired later were promoted, and they made a little bit more gain,” Moore said.

“It was that personal sacrifice that he never got to be–I think he was on the police force for twenty some-odd years and never got promoted,” Moore said. “But those others who came with him were able to, and I think that’s just a testimony to someone standing alone, fighting, taking the sacrifice, but also as being that bridge that people can walk over and making progress.”

“Today we’re up to having a police force that’s very diverse and as well as having had and are considering now African Americans to be the head of that organization,” Moore said.


In addition to protesting for the advancement of Black police officers, Billy McKinney achieved countless other victories.

In 1987, McKinney worked with Hosea Williams to organize a rally against the KKK and a racist climate in Forsyth County, Georgia.

“We went up to Forsyth County and we had this march in this area where this wasn’t nothing. And all of a sudden people started throwing rocks at us and liquor bottles and stuff. It just continued, it got really bad, we had to get back in the bus, they were breaking the windows of the bus and we had to leave,” Gloria Tatum, a longtime Georgia activist, said.

Later, Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center sued members of Klan groups including Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, for attacking the protesters and won a settlement of about 100,000 dollars. Tatum said she received about 800 dollars from the settlement.

“This hits them in the pocketbook, and so I think we are harassing them pretty good,” Rep. Billy McKinney told the New York Times newspaper in 1993.

Rep. Billy McKinney also helped legalize the Georgia lottery, which had previously been a black market numbers racket.

“Billy was one of the first to endorse the bill to legalize the Georgia lottery,” State Rep. Tyrone Brooks told APN. “This bill would enable thousands to go to college. Gov. Zell Miller got the credit for this, but it all started with Billy!”

“Billy and I proceeded to endorse bills that would make more Black judges and prosecutors,” Brooks said.

“One of the greatest moments for Billy was our endorsement of HB 16, the bill to change the racist Georgia state flag, a promise we both made to the Rev. Hosea Williams,” Brooks said.

“On January 31, 2001, Billy hugged me on the House floor and said, ‘You did it Tyrone.’ I told him no, we both did it. Then Gov. Roy Barnes signed the bill, HB 16. The Confederate Battle Flag would never again be the state flag flying over Georgia,” Brooks said.

“Billy was a loyal dues-paying member of the GABEO, Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials,” Brooks said.

“Being one of the first Black Atlanta police officers, Billy was very interested in the conviction of the murders of the Moore’s Ford Bridge in Monroe, Georgia. Billy supported the Moore’s Ford Re-enactment from its inception,” Brooks said.

“Billy was a loyal spokesman for the people and no one will be able to fill his shoes,” Brooks said.

“Billy was one of the most concerned, courageous, and transparent fighters. He stood for what he believed in whether it was popular or not! We owe him so much!” Joe Beasley, Civil Rights Movement activist, said.

More recently, earlier this year, Billy and his wife, Leola McKinney, joined other members of their neighbhorhood association in being recognized for their work in developing the historic Black community, Collier Heights.


Billy McKinney was a strong supporter of the “Max Black” districts which were drawn in order to create districts that would maximize the amount of Black voters to ensure some level of Black representation in the US House.

These districts helped get his daughter, Cynthia, elected to the US House.

However, he apparently took it too far in 1994 when he threatened US Rep. Gary Franks (R-CT), who had just testified in federal court against the Max Black legislative and congressional maps, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. He followed Franks to his car and shouted racial slurs. He later apologized to a federal judge and was fined 500 dollars.

In 2002, he told reporters that “J-E-W-S” were responsible for McKinney’s election loss. Some Georgians of Jewish faith took offense at the remarks, although there may be some truth to his assessment.


While Billy McKinney was one of the strongest advocates for civil rights and equality for Black people, he was ironically one of the strongest opponents of civil rights and equality for homosexuals.

In 1987 and again in 1990, State Rep. Billy McKinney introduced legislation to repeal Georgia’s laws criminalizing sodomy, but only for heterosexuals.

This was one of many issues involving equality for homosexuals where Billy McKinney and his daughter, also a State Representative at the time, disagreed.

Then-State Rep. Cynthia McKinney introduced a bill decriminalizing sodomy for all adults. Neither of the bills passed.

“I was really flabbergasted that she would lead the homosexuals’ fight for equality,” Billy McKinney told Jet Magazine in 1990, adding, “I believe the natural process of sex is man and woman and woman and man.”

In 1993, Billy McKinney sued the City of Atlanta after the City Council passed ordinances recognizing domestic partnerships and extending City employee benefits to domestic partners.

As a result of Billy McKinney’s lawsuit, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned Atlanta’s domestic partner benefits ordinance on March 14, 1995, because they ruled that the City of Atlanta did not have authority to extend such benefits under Georgia law.

Just in case his lawsuit did not work out, Rep. Billy McKinney coauthored legislation in 1994 to ban domestic partnerships at the State level, but the legislation was not successful.

Former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney said in prepared remarks obtained by Atlanta Progressive News that her father changed his opinion about homosexuals in 1996.

“I learned to love humanity because I saw my father grow in his own attitudes and admit that he was wrong about gays and apologize to them in 1996 when he saw their dedication to me after I was forced into a bruising legal battle to remain in Congress and it was only the white gay community in Atlanta that would cross the racial ‘Maginot’ line that is Candler Road out in Decatur and come into my campaign headquarters and fold letters and stuff envelopes and answer phones and do whatever was necessary to help me win reelection in a vastly redrawn district. And I did win in a hotly contested race,” McKinney said.

In any event, the GLBT community fell back out of favor with Billy McKinney in 2002 when he perceived that GLBT voters had supported Denise Majette over US Rep. McKinney in the Democratic Primary.

According to a Southern Voice article in 2006, Billy McKinney took over a meeting between US Rep. McKinney’s Chief of Staff, Warren Miller, and GLBT activists who sought McKinney’s support for repealing the US military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.

According to Southern Voice, McKinney “demanded to know why his daughter should support gay rights bills after gay voters ‘abandoned’ her in 2002.”

Cynthia McKinney declined to answer any further questions concerning the matter for this article.


About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at

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