[UPDATED, 7/28/22] Former Democratic state Sen. McKinley Washington Jr. of Ravenel, whose booming preacher’s voice filled the Statehouse for more than two decades, died Sunday afternoon, according to Fielding Home for Funerals and other sources. He was 85.

Former S.C. Sen. McKinley Washington | Photo via Johnson C. Smith University.

Washington, who pastored Edisto Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for years, may be best known to many today for the soaring mile-long, steel-and-concrete bridge over the Dawhoo River that connects the island to the mainland in southern Charleston County. It was dedicated in his honor in 1993.

“McKinley Washington was the finest kind of public servant – a bold and gifted leader who combined unflinching moral purpose with a generosity of spirit that brought people together and opened the path to progress and reconciliation,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said today. “He was also, to many of us, a wise mentor and a true friend. Sandy and I miss him already.” 

S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, said Washington would be missed.

“He was a great senator,” Gilliard said. “Most of all, he was a good friend and someone I could go to for political advice. This is a great loss for all of South Carolina.”

During 25 years service in the legislature, starting in 1975 in the House followed by 10 years in the state Senate, the affable Washington connected Black and White leaders in ways that made them comfortable in working together on major statewide issues. Washington’s Senate seat was filled in 2001 by the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine worshippers shot to death in 2015 at a grisly murder at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. After Washington left the Senate, he served for 10 years as a member of the S.C. Employment Security Commission. 

A 2012 legislative resolution honoring Washington for 50 years of service as a pastor on Edisto Island described him as a “dedicated and perceptive legislator, who rendered outstanding public service.” It said that “during his years as a legislator, he always sought to balance his service in the House and Senate and his community activism with his duties as a pastor.”

An inspiration

Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, saw Washington in action in the state Senate.

H”e was a true servant of the Lord and the people of South Carolina,” Hutto said. today. “He worked tirelessly on advancing social issues, improving education, affecting equity and building coalitions among both the Democratic and Republican members of the legislature. 

“While his death is a grievous loss, his legacy is an inspiration.    We are a better state because of McKinley Washington’s service, and our charge is to forward the examples he has set.”

Washington, born in 1936 in Mayesville, S.C., championed religious and personal freedom throughout his career. He founded the Edisto branch of the NAACP and St. Paul Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, for which he was a past president.

According to a church history, Washington also was an important leader in Charleston County who was “instrumental in helping to establish the Economic Opportunity Commission for Charleston County and the first seven Head Start programs in South Carolina, with Larimer Center Head Start being among the first seven.” 

Washington earned two bachelor’s degrees at Johnson C. Smith University and a master’s degree in divinity from Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary.

Survivors include his wife, Beulah, daughter Katrina, son Michael and two grandchildren.

Fielding Home for Funerals in Charleston is handling funeral arrangements. A visitation will take place Friday, July 29 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Edisto Presbyterian Church. Funeral service will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 30 at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center.

Editor’s Note: This is a developing story.


Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.