James Wilson McKnight
James Wilson McKnight Succumbs
James Wilson McKnight, affectionately known as “Ol’ J.W.” and “Mac”, was born on April 22, 1925, in Franklington, North Carolina to Francis G. McKnight and Ruth Perry McKnight. A few years after his birth, his mother moved to Mount Vernon, New York to seek employment. Mac was then reared by his maternal grandparents, Charlie and Maggie Perry. Mac attended the local Baptist Church with his grandparents and was baptized at an early age. When Mac was fourteen years old, the family moved to Washington, D.C.
Believing that financial constraints would not permit him to attend college, he enrolled in Cardoza High School, a business oriented school, which he felt would later be an asset in affording him a career in the District of Columbia Federal Government. While at Cardoza, he played the trumpet in the marching band and was a Captain in the Cadet Corps.
Shortly after graduating, Mac was drafted into the Armed Forces. His strong test scores caught the attention of those in authority. Thereafter, he was given more qualifying exams. He passed them all with flying colors; so off to Tuskegee he went for flight training. At Tuskegee, Mac was assigned to Class 45C. Upon completing the rigorous training requirements, Mac received his wings in 1945, graduating as a Second Lieutenant. His very proud mother came down from New York for the graduation ceremony.
Following graduation his outfit went to Walterboro Air Base in South Carolina for gunnery training in preparation for overseas warfare. Mac was ready and eager to exhibit his skills as a fighter pilot. However, the war ended, and he never got his chance to fly in combat. Mac later joined the National Guard from which he retired as a Captain.
After returning to Washington, D.C., Mac enrolled in Howard University. While completing his requirements for the B.A. degree, which he received in 1954, Mac managed to be a top producing sales professional for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company.
In November of 1960, he married Helen Saunders, a young school teacher. 1961 was an eventful year for the couple. Through Mac’s salesmanship, he qualified for a ten day trip to the Caribbean for him and his bride. Later that year, he was selected by Home Office Management of N.C. Mutual to go to Los Angeles, California to assist in opening the first office on the west coast. He recruited a staff of women and men to sell and service Life Insurance for North Carolina Mutual. Over the years, Mac was a top producer for several companies. He found great joy helping people with their insurance, investment and financial planning needs.
In January of 1963, Mac became a very proud father when his first son, Byron Keith, was born. In May of 1965, James Keenan was born. A great family man, he engaged in all aspects of their young lives—church, YMCA Indian Guides, swim team, etc.
Having been active in the Washington, D.C. community, Mac continued the same involvement in Los Angeles. He was the chair of the Holman United Methodist Church Commission on Christian and Social Concerns, member of the Men of Tomorrow, President of the Howard University Alumni Club, Chairman of the Board of the Crenshaw YMCA, member of the L.A. chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., L.A. chapter of 100 Black Men, Inc., Cosmopolitan and Vineyard Golf Clubs and the Bacchanalians social club.
Mac entered into eternal rest on July 31, 2009. The memory of his warm, loving nature, his keen sense of humor, his belief in positive thinking and his devotion to family and friends will forever be etched in our minds. Mourning his loss are his wife, Helen; sons, Byron (Linda) and James (Denise); granddaughters, Adrienne, Jade, and Rachel; sisters-in-law, Juanita Cole, Gladys, Elizabeth and Joan Saunders; brother-in-law, Frederick Saunders; devoted caregivers, Michelle Harrison, Marcle Lee Briggs, Murtha Sumuel and Olive Usher, and many nieces, nephews and countless friends.