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BLACK HISTORY MONTH IN NJ: We Salute Philanthropist John McKee

By rlsmetro on
McKee City

Colonel John McKee was an African American who became an extremely wealthy property owner in Philadelphia. McKee City, New Jersey, is named after him. His legacy continues to fund scholarships for orphan boys.

Colonel John Mckee was born in Alexandria, Virginia, around 1821. According to published reports, an 1838 registration in Alexandria describes him as "a bright mulatto boy, about 19 years old, 5 feet 4½ inches tall, who is straight built with light-colored eyes. He was born free, as appears by oaths of Betsey Beckley and Fanny Beckley."

He was obligated to a bricklayer while a teenager ran away but was brought back to complete his indenture. He moved to Philadelphia, first finding work in a livery stable.

In the period immediately after the civil war, many former slaves were migrating north to seek new opportunities. In Philadelphia, McKee was able to exploit them by providing cheap housing in exchange for rents and for the titles on properties that the former slaves had been granted in the South.

McKee's expanded his holdings from housing in Philadelphia to acreage in West Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky. He then sold some of the southern property and bought more land in Philadelphia and land in New York and New Jersey.

McKee eventually owned between 300 and 400 houses in Philadelphia. Other properties included about 300,000 acres of coal and oil land in Kentucky and Logan County, West Virginia, twenty-one acres near Philadelphia's Fifty Street and Oregon Avenue in Philadelphia, and extensive acreage on the Delaware River, in New York State and elsewhere according to published reports in Wikipedia.

McKee Scholarships had been granted to over 1,000 orphaned boys. Although the college was never built, and the equestrian statue was never created, in 2012, the scholarship committee obtained court permission to use a small amount of the funds to erect a tombstone with McKee's and his wife's names, with an image of a man on horseback.


SPONSORS: Metro Media Institute of Harrison, Nino's Pizza, Bergen Street Harrison NJ, and William Paterson University