Ida Kinney, oldest African American in the San Fernando Valley, dies at 104

Ida B. Kinney, a 104-year-old who was believed to be the oldest African American in the San Fernando Valley and who was a driving force for civil rights in the region, died Jan 1.

Affectionately nicknamed "Mother" Kinney, she died of complications related to old age at the Lake View Terrace home of her caregiver, Christel Flynn.

"She was living history," state Sen. Alex Padilla (D- Pacoima) told The Times. "She was a living reminder that not that long ago, our country was breaking civil-rights barriers."

In 1999, Padilla was campaigning for the Los Angeles City Council when he knocked on her Pacoima door. Stories started spilling out of Kinney, the granddaughter of slaves. A mesmerized Padilla stayed for four hours.

As one of the first African American "Rosie the Riveters" to work at Burbank's Lockheed Corp. during World War II, Kinney launched a successful drive to integrate the union.

She was working in a berry patch when she was hired in 1943 by the defense company. She was paid the same as her white colleagues -- but was prohibited from joining the union.

When a fellow worker learned that she took home more money, Kinney responded: "You pay union dues. But I don't because I was born black," she said in 2006 in the Daily News of Los Angeles.

That infuriated some of her co-workers, Padilla recalled, "and the next thing you know, the union was integrated."

Kinney was happy to pay dues because it meant she wasn't being treated differently because of her skin color.

"I told them: 'I don't want to ride on anyone's back -- I want to contribute just like everyone else,' " she said in 1997 in The Times. "I used to eat my lunch with a sandwich in one hand and a petition in the other."

After the war, she started substitute teaching in Bakersfield and later taught in Los Angeles.

She also helped organize the Valley's first Head Start program, remaining involved with it until 1974.

In Pacoima, Kinney helped establish the senior center by relentlessly lobbying her City Council representative. She also played a key role in creating the Pacoima Boys & Girls Club.

The Rev. Zedar Broadous, a Los Angeles County commissioner on human relations, called her influence on the Valley "immeasurable."

"Much of the positive change that has occurred in the San Fernando Valley among African Americans as well as seniors is because of her," he said.

An only child, she was born Ida Ford on May 25, 1904, in Lafayette County, Ark. Since her mother, Bessie, was a maid and cook, Kinney was raised mainly by her grandparents on their Arkansas cotton farm. By selling cotton, her grandparents had bought their freedom from slavery.

As a child, Kinney was shot in the leg by a Ku Klux Klan member in a dispute. It was possibly over the planting of flowers, she later recalled.

When she was 16, she moved to Santa Monica with her mother, who worked as a housekeeper. To prevent Kinney from following in her footsteps, her mother refused to teach her to cook.

Instead, she sent her to college. Kinney spent a year at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., and another year at UCLA before marrying Carl Binion. She eventually earned a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1970 from what is now Cal State Northridge.

Widowed in 1939 after a decade of marriage, Kinney soon moved from Santa Monica to a white neighborhood in Van Nuys. The chilly reception she received was reflected in the 16 parking tickets she was given over two months.

"They were trying to move me out. They were ignorant and backward," Kinney said in the Daily News in 1999, but a judge dismissed the tickets.

In 1952, she married Perry Kinney, a construction worker. When they purchased their Pacoima home in 1954, they had a white friend pose as the buyer.

A committed volunteer, Kinney helped the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People push through initiatives on the local and state level, said Jose De Sosa, a former NAACP officer.

The deeply religious Kinney also was a founding member of Pacoima's Greater Community Missionary Baptist Church, the first African American church in the Valley.

Independent and energetic, Kinney refused all medications until shortly before her death, her caregiver said. The aloe vera plant was Kinney's cure-all.

Her husband, Perry, also lived to be 104 and died in 2004.

Kinney is survived by her cousins in St. Louis, Mayetta Miller, 107, and Evelyn Green, believed to be 97; a stepgrandson and a stepgranddaughter.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Greater Community Missionary Baptist Church, 11066 Norris Ave., Pacoima.