Ada S. McKinley, founder of South Side Settlement House, one of Black Chicago's unsung heroes

Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Ada S. McKinley left lasting mark on Chicago, despite relative anonymity
Chicago scholars say Ada S. McKinley's contributions to the city, particulary for Black South Siders, have been overlooked but ripple to the present.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Ada S. McKinley opened the South Side Settlement House in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood in the 1920s to serve the growing Black community there suffering from racism, poor housing conditions, high poverty and unemployment.

"She experienced a lot of hardships in terms of securing funding for the agency, providing support of the community," said KangJae Lee, assistant professor at North Carolina State University.

Prof. Lee and Professor Rodney Dieser published a research paper on McKinley's legacy, and say her contributions to Chicago have been overlooked.

"We have to understand what I call whiteness in the history of the United States," Lee said. "It has been dominated by white Americans' perspective, celebration of the accomplishments of white individuals."

McKinley died in 1952 at the age of 84, just hours after a ceremony for the Ada S. McKinley Community Services's new headquarters at 34th and Michigan. Today, the organization serves more than 7,000 people at 70 program sites in the Chicago area, Indiana and Wisconsin. Services offered include child development and college placement.

"The needs have not ended," said CEO Jamal Malone. "That's why we're still thriving. We're filling this, this void, this gap."

Malone believes McKinley deserves more recognition, and is calling for a Chicago street to be named after her to honor her legacy.

"We need these historic mile markers to remember where we're coming from," he said. "They say if you don't remember where you're coming from, history repeats itself."