Cynthia McKinney

Civil Rights Activist & U.S. Representative

“Eight generations of African-Americans are still waiting to achieve their rights – compensation and restitution for the hundreds of years during which they were bought and sold on the market.”

Cynthia McKinney was the first African American woman to represent Georgia in the House of Representatives and the Green Party presidential candidate in 2008.

Born on March 17, 1955, in Atlanta, Georgia. An experienced state and national legislator, Cynthia McKinney is now seeking the highest elected office in the United States – the presidency. She is the Green Party candidate for the 2008 presidential election, following in the footsteps of earlier African American female politicians, such as Shirley Chisholm, who have also tried to win the top executive post.

Cynthia McKinney

Her father, Billy McKinney, was one of the first African American police officers in Atlanta. Her mother, Leola, worked as a nurse at one of the city's hospitals for several decades. From an early age, McKinney was active in the civil rights movement, participating in sit-ins and demonstrations. After graduating from St. Joseph High School, she went to the University of Southern California. There McKinney earned a bachelor's degree in international relations in 1978.

McKinney continued her studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She earned a master's degree from the program and then became a diplomatic fellow at Atlanta's Spelman College in 1984.

In the mid-1980s, McKinney married Jamaican politician Coy Grandison. The couple had one child together, a son named Coy Jr., before divorcing. McKinney's father submitted her name as a write-in candidate for the state legislature in Georgia in 1986. Despite the fact that she was still living in Jamaica at the time, McKinney was able to get more than 40 percent of the popular vote. She launched a campaign for that seat two years later and won a post in the state's House of Representatives.

By this time, McKinney's father was a well-established member of the House of Representatives in Georgia. The two became the first father-daughter team to serve in the legislature at the same time in the state. In 1992, Cynthia McKinney broke new ground on a national level. She became the first African American woman to represent Georgia in the House of Representatives.

Taking office in January 1993, McKinney led the Women's Caucus Task Force on Children, Youth and Families and served on the Armed Forces and International Relations Committees. She showed an interest in foreign policy and was handpicked by President Bill Clinton to attend the presidential inauguration in Nigeria. McKinney was also involved in trying to open up diplomatic relations with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In addition to her support for many liberal causes and ideas, McKinney was also known around the capital for her braided hair and gold-colored tennis shoes. She faced a new political challenge in 1995 when the district she represented – the 11th – was redrawn after the Supreme Court ruled that its boundaries were unconstitutional. She then ran for the seat from the 4th district and won in 1996.

Holding on to her post for two more terms, McKinney remained active in foreign affairs. She campaigned for the creation of a Palestinian state within Israel-occupied lands and questioned some of the nation's positions on the Middle East. In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001, she wrote a letter of support to a Saudi prince who called the U.S. government to review its Middle East policies. The letter brought McKinney a lot of unpleasant media attention, including criticism from other members of Congress. Senator Zell Miller said that “No one … should be saying anything in a time of war that could even remotely be interpreted as agreeing with the position of our enemy,” according to an article in The New York Times.

Cynthia McKinney

In 2002, McKinney found herself in a tough primary race with Denise Majette, a former judge and a more moderate Democrat. Adding to her challenge were reports that some of her campaign contributions came from Arab-American individuals and organizations that were under investigation for possible links to terrorism. In the end, McKinney lost to Majette.

Two years later, McKinney regained her post in the House representing the 4th district. She continued to be outspoken, criticizing the government's handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In April 2006, McKinney got into an altercation with a Capitol Hill police officer when she tried to go around a metal detector. She reportedly struck him in the chest with her hand when he tried to stop her, but she was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury. Later that year, McKinney faced another challenging fight for re-election. She was the subject of a positive documentary American Blackout, which was released before the primaries. This was not enough, however, for her to beat out challenger Henry C. Johnson. He became the Democratic candidate for the 4th district after a runoff primary.

Defeated but undeterred, McKinney soon returned to the political arena. She was selected as the Green Party candidate for the 2008 presidential election at the party's national convention in Chicago that year. Community activist Rosa A. Clemente became her vice-presidential running mate. This all-female ticket faces an uphill battle in the general election from Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden and Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin.

McKinney lives in DeKalb County, Georgia.


Quick Facts

Birth Date:
March 17, 1955


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