George K. McKinney, who was the first African-American to be appointed U.S. marshal for the District of Maryland, and whose career in federal service spanned more than four decades, died June 17 of leukemia at his Northwest Baltimore home. He was 77.
"It is with deep sadness that I acknowledge the passing of my dear friend, retired U.S. marshal George K. McKinney," Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said in a statement. "George held the distinct honor of being the only African-American appointed U.S. marshal to two different jurisdictions by two different presidents."
The son of a Morgan State University professor and Coppin State University registrar, Mr. McKinney was descended from slaves. He was born in Providence, R.I., and raised in Boston, Petersburg, Va., and Richmond.
After graduating from Morgan State University with a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1956, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army. Mr. McKinney served with the 82nd Airborne Division as a master paratrooper, jump master and jungle expert, and completed tours of duty in Korea and the Panama Canal Zone and at Fort Bragg, N.C.
After being discharged with the rank of captain in 1965, Mr. McKinney worked for a year as a classification and corrections officer at the Maryland State Penitentiary.
From 1966 to 1968, he was a deputy U.S. marshal for the District of Maryland. When Vietnam anti-war protesters attempted to shut down the Pentagon, Mr. McKinney assisted in the effort that staved them off. When Cassius Clay refused induction into the Army in Houston in 1967, Mr. McKinney was one of the deputy marshals sent to Texas to make sure there was no trouble.
He then joined the National Security Agency at Fort Meade as a special agent and polygraph examiner. During this period from 1968 to 1973, Mr. McKinney, in his capacity as a special agent, was involved with more then 1,000 national security investigations, and was also a member of numerous special civil rights details.
In 1973, he was appointed U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia — the third African-American marshal to serve the district — by President Richard M. Nixon.
"As the U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia, he became the only marshal who personally served a subpoena on President Nixon ordering him to turn over the Watergate tapes," said a daughter, Monica McKinney-Lupton of Glen Arm.
On April 18, 1974, U.S. District Judge John J. Sirica ordered Mr. McKinney to serve President Nixon the subpoena.
President Nixon's chief defense counsel, James D. St. Clair, told Mr. McKinney that delivering the subpoena was unconstitutional. When Mr. McKinney threatened to deputize the White House Secret Service detail in order to comply with Judge Sirica's orders, the president's lawyer agreed to a meeting with Nixon.
Mr. McKinney wasn't sure what the reaction would be from the man who had just appointed him U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia, and realized he could be fired.
"Any time you're dealing with the chief executive in an adversarial role — that's different," Mr. McKinney said in a 1995 interview with The Baltimore Sun. "But I was worried. When backed into a corner, there was no telling what Nixon might do."
The president accepted the subpoena from Mr. McKinney, who left his D.C. marshal post in 1977.
From 1977 to 1994, he held numerous high-level executive management positions with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington. Some of the positions included serving as director of justice protective services, assistant director for physical security, senior security specialist, operations security officer and computer security officer.
In 1995, President Bill Clinton appointed Mr. McKinney as U.S. marshal for Maryland, the first African-American to hold that position in the state since the founding of the U.S. Marshal Service in 1789.
"I think it says a lot about the district of Maryland and the country," Mr. McKinney said at the time. "Minority marshals are relatively new. But it's something I've aspired to ever since I was a deputy. I wanted to be in the top job."
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. Marshal Service for the District of Maryland was directed by the U.S. attorney general to "assume and manage all security operations" at BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport, his daughter said.
The airport remained under Mr. McKinney's purview for 60 days until it was taken over by the Maryland National Guard and then the Transportation Security Administration.
Mr. McKinney retired in 2002.