McKinley Young, 74: AME Church senior bishop once led in Atlanta

African Methodist Episcopal Church Senior Bishop McKinley Young was a witness to history on two continents.

He worked on voter registration efforts during the elections of the first black presidents of South Africa and the United States.

He attended the inauguration of both Nelson Mandela and Barack H. Obama.

A son of the South, Young was keenly aware that social justice, economic and political empowerment and education were the keys to developing a community.

Faith, though, remained at the cornerstone of everything he did.

Young, the former pastor of Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta and the senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, died in Columbus, Ohio, on Jan. 16 after a brief illness.

He was 74.

Young was the longest-serving bishop of the AME Church and oversaw the Third Episcopal District, which includes Ohio, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania.

“He wanted to give everyone the chance to rise as high as they could,” said his wife of 51 years, Dorothy Jackson Young. “We may not all be gifted in the same way, but we all should have the opportunity to rise. All we need are good schools, good health care, housing and jobs.”

Services will be held Thursday at Ohio’s Wilberforce University, where he served as chancellor. Another service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Big Bethel AME Church, 220 Auburn Ave. NW in Atlanta. A wake and an omega service will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, also at Big Bethel.

Young, a native of Atlanta, was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

The son of an Atlanta pastor, Young was raised in the AME Church, which was born from activism. One could say that and the AME Church were steeped in his bones.

“His life was the AME Church with a side of everything else,” said daughter Stephanie Young.

Young was an early member of the Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta and once served as its president. Presidents, mayors, governors and congressmen visited his Atlanta church.

He counted former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and U.S. Rep. John Lewis as friends.

Young grew up in a working-class family in the segregated South. During summers, he worked as a waiter at an all-white country club.

He served as pastor of Big Bethel, the historic downtown Atlanta church, from 1980 until 1992. He was elected a bishop in 1992.

“The Christian Church has lost a faithful giant at the death of Senior Bishop McKinley Young,” the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said in a statement. “His legacy will be great not only in the AME Church and ecumenical circles, but also in the world where his prophetic leadership will be felt for decades. I count it a privilege to have known him. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”

Young’s work with the AME Church took him far beyond Georgia.

He served as bishop in Florida, Texas, the Bahamas and several nations in southern Africa, and he served on the board of trustees for Payne Theological Seminary.

The Rev. John Foster, senior pastor of Big Bethel, said Young was a mentor to many young aspiring ministers.

“He was very energetic,” Foster said. “You could talk to him about anything. He was always willing to get involved.”

Young earned his undergraduate degree from Morris Brown College in 1966. He also earned degrees from Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, Mass.; and the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Former Morris Brown President Stanley Pritchett was several years younger than Young, but considered him a mentor.

They both attended Big Bethel and the same high school.

“You could tell even in high school that he was a great leader,” said Stanley, steward pro-tem at Big Bethel. “I was able to watch him progress. He had the attributes of a great minister. He was a great orator. A visionary. Always out front. There was just something special about him.”

Young is survived by his wife; daughters Karyn (Ron) Young-Lowe of Los Angeles, Deana (Julius) McAllister of Tallahassee, Andrea (Roderick) Jones of Atlanta and Stephanie Lynn Young of New York; and eight grandchildren. The family still has a home in southwest Atlanta.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Wilberforce University at, or checks can be made payable to Wilberforce University and mailed to:

Third Episcopal District AME Church

112 Jefferson Ave., #5

Columbus, OH 43215

Please include the following information:

Bishop and Mrs. McKinley Young Scholarship Fund or fund#51009 3307-5303-60.