Erla said in her beautiful Virginia soft southern drawl recently, “Ken, I want to be at home and go out the door feet first when I die.” Mission accomplished. Erla McKinnon passed peacefully away recently in her sleep at 97.

Erla maintained the panache, straight, no chaser persona of a New Yorker.  She possessed a humanity that exuded warmth, kindness and the genteelness of a rural Southern Virginia Black family.  For many others and me, Erla helped to put the charm, grit and soul in Baltimore.  Now, wrap them in the soul and body of a beautiful Black woman.

Mr. Jim, Erla’s significant other, and Erla put spice in each other’s lives until he died.  She added a heavy dose of St. James Episcopal Church as a devout member and patron.  Her outside activities, memberships and travels made the youngest member of our neighborhood tired.

Kenneth O. Morgan

Erla graduated from Frederick Douglass H.S. in 1938 and Coppin State College, as it was called at the time, in 1942 to become a teacher and taught for over thirty-five years. After her retirement, she became a member of the Baltimore School Board.

Erla could be called a Democrat’s Democrat, especially for Black politicians and women.  She helped put many into office through a group called Woman Power.  Ms. Victorine Adams created the group and Erla was one of the charter members.  Woman Power focused on voter registration as well as other legislative and political activities.

Its roster included Parren Mitchell, Victorine Adams, Verda Welcome, Kweisi Mfume, Sheila Dixon, Agnes Welch, Patricia Jessamy, Cheryl Glenn, Shirley Nathan Pulliam, Donna Edwards, Sheila Dixon, Cathy Pugh, Mary Conway, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Helen Holton, Delores Kelly, Nathaniel McFadden, Ken Oliver, Adrienne Jones, Mary Pat Clark, Barbara Robinson and Barbara Mikulski.  I probably left some folks out.

Erla’s politics was very different from mine.  Yet, when we talked politics and we talked politics a lot, we found commonality in our desire to advance the plight of Black people.  In fact, I met Erla at a community meeting held at her house almost thirty years ago and really loved the neighborhood so much so that I became Erla’s neighbor for 27 years.

Erla was selfless and tireless. She shared her knowledge, tenacity and spirit – so much so that although Erla will be sorely missed, I will always be able to revel in the legacy of my inner Erla.

Kenneth O. Morgan is an assistant professor and coordinator of the Urban Studies Program in the Department of Criminal Justice and Applied Social and Political Sciences at Coppin State University in Baltimore.