Judy Covington McKinnon was born in Rockingham, North Carolina, on 3 May 1923, the daughter of a sharecropper. She graduated from high school in Ellerbe and worked as a housekeeper before joining the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in May 1942.
McKinnon was inducted in Charlotte and completed basic training in a segregated African American unit at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. She then worked in the motor pool at Fort Rucker, Alabama, before attended cooks and bakers school at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. She remained at Fort Huachuca working in the mess hall, and later worked in the mess at Fort Lewis, Washington. She was discharged from Fort Lewis as a private first class on 18 June 1945.
McKinnon met her husband at Fort Lewis and was married in 1945. She moved with her husband to Tampa, Florida, where she raised a family and worked in a school cafeteria and a cashier. For more than twenty years she was also a self-employed home decorator.