Pauline “Polly” McCoo


Photo from the private collection of Rev. Dr. Qiyamah Rahman


Pauline “Polly” McCoo receiving the 1999 Unsung Unitarian Universalist Award from Rev. Bill Sinkford.

Photo from the private collection of Rev. Dr. Qiyamah Rahman


Pauline “Polly” McCoo
Circa 1929 – October 10, 2007
First Unitarian Church of Chicago

  • Graduated from Englewood High School in Chicago
  • Studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; graduated from Chicago Teacher’s College
  • Taught art and remedial reading at Doolittle and Shoesmith Schools in Chicago; was instrumental in setting up Louis Wirth Experimental School; retired in 1996
  • Was the first African American member of First Unitarian Church of Chicago, joining on October 19, 1947 at the age of 18 and becoming involved with the Sunday school; she only later discovered that the church was all white
  • Shared the experience of inviting her parents to church and having the Chairman of the Board shake her father’s hand stating, “We don’t mind if members are people like your daughter,” which they interpreted as a very interesting statement, as shortly thereafter, the Chair and several others left the church
  • Went on to become an activist nationally within the denomination, and locally with the Chicago Area Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus
  • Was married at First Unitarian and highly valued memories of her favorite room in the church; stated that she and her beloved wrote their own vows and had a beautifully designed goblet, remembering that “the wine was God-awful” but the ceremony was gorgeous
  • Became even more reliant on the church when her husband died in 1967, stating that he was the glue that held the family together, and continuing, “The church held me together from then on. It was a place to be a person of value and get strength and be assured that things were going to be alright.”
  • Was instrumental in building the church’s enduring multiracial character, heading the program council, serving as a trustee, and cultivating development of an annual multiracial Kwanzaa service
  • Honored with the 1999 Unsung Unitarian Universalist award with then UUA President, Rev. Bill Sinkford presenting the award
  • Shared her love of creativity through paintings, drawings, fashion, and food; loved music deeply and esteemed friends, family and life passionately