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Town dedicates McKinney Center

The Town of Jonesborough dedicated the McKinney Center at Booker T. Washington School on Nov. 8, officially re-opening the former school for African American students as a new center for the arts.
Jonesborough Alderman Adam Dickson was one of the speakers during the ceremony, which honored the late Ernest L. McKinney and his family, for whom the school is named.
Dickson told a packed house he had often thought about the potential the building might have and was pleased when he learned Town Administrator Bob Browning and Mayor Kelly Wolfe shared the same feeling.
“This building was constructed to uphold systematic division,” Dickson said. “Now it is a vision of equality and unity. This place is now a place of family and inclusion.”
Dickson praised Ernest McKinney, who died in 2009, for his leadership, calling him “the Dean of Black Politics of Northeast Tennessee.”
Dickson listed a number of area black leaders who were inspired by McKinney, and included himself among them.
“Without him, there also would be no Adam Dickson,” he said. “It takes a trailblazer and I’m humbled to be in the list of leaders he made a path for.”
McKinney was the first black alderman in Jonesborough. He also later served on the Washington County Board of Education.
Browning, who served as emcee for the dedication, was emotional as he introduced those on the stage with him — Ernest McKinney’s widow, Marion McKinney, and his sons, Ernest McKinney Jr. and Kevin McKinney as well as Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes; and Dickson.
“Ernest McKinney was the first black alderman Jonesborough ever had. His son, Kevin, followed him and was elected Jonesborough’s first black mayor,” Browning said. “Together, the two served 18 years, so it’s not hard to understand why we’re here honoring the McKinney family today. They were uniters. They brought people together.
“We want this facility to continue that legacy by bringing people together and building relationships through the arts.”
He also recognized Marion McKinney.
“She has always been involved in our community and in our schools,” Browning said. “She has also been the chairman of the ‘I love you, Bob, but….’ committee. She has also had a great way of giving me instructions on things I need to fix.”
One such fix was the physical address of the McKinney Center.
“She told me this school was always known for being on Franklin, not East Main,” Browning said. “I told her, ‘Marion, I don’t have anything to do with the street address. That would have to be changed by the post office.’ She just looked at me and said, ‘O.K.’ I knew what I had to do and we got it done. Today, our official address is 103 Franklin Ave.”
Wolfe also touted the McKinney family’s many contributions to the community and years of educational governmental leadership. He also talked about the building itself.
“Only in Jonesborough would you find a place with this much history and this much potential,” he said.
Wolfe credited Browning with having the vision to create the center from a dilapidated building that had been used as a storage facility for the Washington County school system.
The willingness of current Dykes to negotiate the building’s transfer of ownership to the Town of Jonesborough, also played a big part in making the center a reality, Wolfe said.
“I was delighted to work with the town. The McKinneys are and have been dear friends for decades. My dad and Ernest played together as kids,” Dykes said. “I am awed at the end result of this building. It is a testament to the enormous role Ernest and Marion played in education. They are a benevolent, humanitarian family.”
Ernest “Button” McKinney Jr. was all smiles as he took the podium.
“Welcome to my daycare. My grandmother cooked here and I learned to count and read and write here,” he said. “My dad and mom showed us the way and I’m blessed. What you saw (in them) is what you got. They were truly a partnership.”
Pointing to the irony of tragedy and triumph in his father’s life, McKinney recalled the day when his dad was elected to the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
“Dad was being elected in East Tennessee while another leader — Martin Luther King — was being killed in West Tennessee,” he said.
Kevin McKinney appeared equally pleased with the center’s completion, saying it truly honored his father’s memory and his family.
“He always listened and he imparted wisdom,” he said of his father. “He called people, ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ and he was always respectful.
“We learned that from him. He taught us to treat people the way you want to be treated.”