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Ernest Finney (1931-2017)

December 4, 2017 - Posted in SC Hall of Fame by Betsy Newman

Ernest Finney Photograph

Ernest A. Finney, Jr. was South Carolina’s first appointed African-American Supreme Court Justice, since Reconstruction.

Born 1931 in Smithfield, Virginia, his mother died when he was an infant.  He was reared by his father, Dr. Ernest Finney, Sr., an educator who eventually moved to Orangeburg, SC, and became Dean of Historically Black Claflin College.

Young Ernest Finney, Jr. graduated from Orangeburg-Wilkerson High School, then, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Historically Black Claflin College in 1952.

He then enrolled in historically black South Carolina State College's School of Law, from which he graduated in 1954. In the beginning, he was unable to find work as a lawyer, so he followed in his father's footsteps and worked as a teacher in 1960.

In 1961, Finney represented the Friendship 9, a group of black junior college students arrested and charged when trying to desegregate McCrory’s lunch counter in Rock Hill, South Carolina 

In 1963, he served as chairman of the South Carolina Commission on Civil Rights. Finney was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1972. He was subsequently appointed a member of the House Judiciary Committee, making him the first African-American to serve on that key committee in modern times.

Finney was one of the founders of the Legislative Black Caucus and served as charter Chairperson from 1973 to 1975.

Among Finney's other accomplishments are:

  • A position on the National College of State Trial Judges - 1977
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree, The Citadel - 1995  
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree, Johnson C. Smith University - 1995
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, SC State University - 1996
  • Doctor of Laws, Morris College - 1996
  • Doctorate, Claflin University – 1993
  • Honoree, S.C. Trial Lawyers Association, - 1993;
  • Elected and Qualified Judge, The Third Judicial Circuit - 1976 
  • Elected and Qualified Associate Justice - 1985

In May 1994, the state's general assembly elected Ernest A. Finney, Jr. to the position of Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, effective December 1994, making him the first African-American Chief Justice of South Carolina since Reconstruction.

Finney retired from the state Supreme Court in 2000 and was named interim president of Historically Black South Carolina State University in 2002.

In 2015, Finney represented the surviving eight members of the Friendship Nine at the court hearing where their convictions were overturned.

He currently resides in Sumter, South Carolina. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

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