A Celebration of Life for Mrs. Bessie Hayes McKinney, 92 formerly of Decatur will be Saturday December 29, 2018 at 10:00 am at Gatling’s Chapel in Chicago, IL with the Rev. Angelo Kyle officiating. Viewing at 9:00 am with Gatling’s Funeral Home directing.
Bessie Hayes McKinney stood less than 5 feet 2 inches tall. But she had a giant commitment to helping young African Americans reach their full potential through education and a track record of breaking through glass ceilings and racial barriers.
During her 28-year career at Grambling State University, one of the nation’s most well-known historically black colleges, she positively impacted the lives of hundreds of students with her no-nonsense style and dedication to excellence.
Bessie was born December 15, 1926 in Prospect, Tennessee to Benny Hayes and Sally Ruth Bassham. During her early years,she was reared and educated in Decatur, Alabama while living with her mother and beloved aunts, Idelia & Lura Mae Bassham.
Bessie graduated from Alabama A&M High School in Huntsville, Alabama, and her athleticism earned her a track scholarship to attend Tuskegee Institute. She and other members of the nationally recognized Tuskegee track team were invited to attend the 1948 Olympics in London, but her Mother’s illness prevented Bessie from competing. Bessie earned a BS Degree in 1949 at Tuskegee, and while there, was initiated as a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
After graduating, she began her professional career as a physical education instructor at Alabama A&M University.There she met and married William McKinney with whom she had one son, Stanley Ian McKinney.
Bessie earned a Master’s degree in Physical Education in 1956 from the University of Michigan making her among the first African American women to do so. She furthered her education at Springfield College in Massachusetts earning an Advanced Certification in Physical Education. Bessie became the first full-time female instructor in the Health and Physical Education Department at Grambling in the 1956-1957 academic year and later the first woman to head the department.
Bessie was inducted by her alma mater into the Tuskegee Hall of Fame in 1981. The honor pays tribute to former athletes and supporters of athletics for their exceptional athletic performance at Tuskegee.
Among her favorite past times was attending the theatre in New York and watching and attending Grambling and other collegiate and professional sporting events. She was named honorary captain of the Grambling Tigers football team in September 1998 for her support.
Bessie retired from Grambling in 1984. She continued to be involved at the university, her sorority and church, St. Benedict Catholic Church in Grambling where she was a dedicated member until she moved to Arizona to be with family in 2006.
Bessie passed December 17, 2018. She leaves behind her son, Stan (Endia), grandchildren, Ariel and Aaron; half-sisters,Fannie Yaw of Birmingham and Bennie (Ruth) Hayes of Washington D.C.; her very dear friend who was like a sister, Dorothy Hardy of Grambling; and many relatives, friends and former students.