LOS ANGELES—Ida B. Kinney, a civil-rights activist who helped dissolve racial barriers with employers, unions and hospitals, has died. She was 104.
Believed to be the oldest black person living in the San Fernando Valley, she died Jan. 1 of complications related to old age.
"She was living history," state Sen. Alex Padilla told the Los Angeles Times. "She was a living reminder that not that long ago, our country was breaking civil-rights barriers."
The granddaughter of slaves, Kinney was one of the first black "Rosie the Riveters" to work at Burbank's Lockheed Corp. during World War II. While there, she launched a successful drive to integrate the union.
Hired by the defense firm in 1943, Kinney was paid the same as white workers but had been barred from joining the union. When her co-workers learned she was actually taking home more money than they did because she didn't pay union dues, the union soon became integrated.
"I told them: 'I don't want to ride on anyone's back—I want to contribute just like everyone else,'" she told the Times in 1997. "I used to eat my lunch with a sandwich in one hand and a petition in the other."
Born Ida Ford on May 25, 1904, in Lafayette County, Ark., Kinney was raised mainly by her grandparents because her mother was a maid and a cook. Her grandparents had bought their way out of slavery by selling cotton.
In an attempt to stop her from following in their footsteps, Kinney's mother refused to teach her to cook and instead sent her to college. Kinney studied at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., and at the University of California, Los Angeles. She eventually earned a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1970.
Kinney was a committed volunteer who helped the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People push through various initiatives. She also helped establish a senior center and played a key role in creating the Pacoima Boys & Girls Club.
"Much of the positive change that has occurred in the San Fernando Valley among African Americans as well as seniors is because of her," said the Rev. Zedar Broadous, a Los Angeles County commissioner on human relations.