Van H. McKinney, printer, newspaper publisher, minister, businessman, and son of Squire and Jane McKinney, was born in Mississippi on July 4, 1865. In the 1880 census he was listed as a laborer, age fifteen, living in Labette County, Kansas, where his parents and four siblings also lived. By the 1890s McKinney was living in Houston, Texas. He married Annie M. Crawford in 1892, and the couple had four children: Juanita, Van Robert, Hobart, and Roy. The McKinneys resided in the Fifth Ward community.
When McKinney began his printing operation in Houston in 1892, he was one of the first African-American printers in Texas. It is not known where he received his training, but he no doubt learned the trade as an apprentice. He then taught the trade to his three sons who worked with him, along with W. O. Myers, Campbell A. Gilmore, W. O. Wilson, and W. L. Jones, owner of the Galveston Houston Times. McKinney was active in the civic and political affairs of the area and was listed as one of the Republican Party delegates representing the Fifth Ward in 1896 by the Galveston Daily News.
McKinney was editor of the Houston Van, published weekly in the interest of the “business, social, religious and moral life of the Negro race,” according to The Red Book of Houston, published in 1915. He operated his business in downtown Houston for more than thirty years. His first office was located at 905 Prairie Avenue. By 1915 he had moved to 411½ Travis where other African-American professionals were housed, including two physicians, a dentist, and an attorney. In 1920 McKinney relocated his business to 504 Milam Street in the Ideal Theater building.
McKinney’s second wife, Anna N. Benchley, whom he married on July 29 1909, was an educator and taught at the Harrisburg School. She was active in many civic organizations including the YWCA. She was a charter member of the Ethel Ransom Art & Literary Club of Houston in 1927.
The McKinneys were members of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church, the oldest in Houston’s Fifth Ward community. Anna was the church organist, and her parents George and Mary Benchley were pioneer members of this congregation. In 1919 Van McKinney cofounded a Methodist church in La Marque, Texas, located between Houston and Galveston in Galveston County. He was pastor of that church from 1922 to 1925. After his tenure as pastor, the church was named in his honor and became McKinney Memorial United Methodist Church.
McKinney was a pioneer member of the Ancient Order of Pilgrims and served as Supreme Worthy Shepherd of the organization. In 1896 he was a trustee of Lily of the Valley, No.13, Ancient Order of Pilgrims, a benevolent association of Harris County that purchased property for $300.00 and was located north of Buffalo Bayou, on what is now Jensen Street. In 1926 when the Pilgrim building was dedicated at 222 West Dallas, McKinney was one of the officers.
Among McKinney’s other affiliations were the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows and the DeRoLoc Festival, an annual fall celebration launched in 1901 in Houston by Dr. Benjamin J. Covington and other African-American leaders when they were refused participation in the city’s annual No-Tsu-oH Festival.
McKinney died on February 24, 1928, at his home, after a lengthy illness. Hundreds attended his funeral at Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church. Funeral rites were conducted by the Ancient Order of Pilgrims. At the time of his death he was a member of the supreme council, and fraternal members attended from throughout Texas. He is buried in Houston’s Olivewood Cemetery.