Gravesite of Pernia McKinney

Life-long learner

When Pernia McKinney was 63 years old, she enrolled in elementary school. She took night classes at the Douglass Night School in Walnut Hills after working during the day.

Pernia McKinnney was born in North Carolina around 1875. (Her gravestone gives her date of birth as 1880, but several other records indicate that she was born earlier.) In 1930, she and her husband Albert came to Cincinnati and moved into a house, now gone, at 5109 Amy Avenue in Madisonville.

Pernia McKinney worked as a laundress for a private family, and Albert was a laborer. In North Carolina, the McKinneys, who were African American, had been denied an education, but Pernia McKinney did not want to let that stop her.

Albert died in 1941, but Ms. McKinney pushed forward. After she graduated from elementary school, she started in on high school, still taking only night classes. She studied at East Night High School, on the old Woodward campus.

In June 1951, when she was 76 years old, Pernia McKinney graduated from high school. She was, at least up to that time, by far the oldest student ever to graduate from the Cincinnati Public School System.

McKinney considered about what to do with her education. And she decided to open a real estate business, helping African Americans to find homes. She died in 1955, at the age of 80, four years after graduating from high school. She was buried in Madisonville, in what is now called United American Cemetery and was then still called the United Colored Cemetery.


United American Cemetery is currently closed to the public.


Chris Hanlin, “Gravesite of Pernia McKinney,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed February 21, 2024,