Chief Justice Finney – A Story of Black History in South Carolina

Chief Justice Finney - "Proud To Be A SC Lawyer"

I had the pleasure to meet Chief Justice Finney a few months ago while working with the South Carolina Bar Association and Melanie Lux on video project. Ernest A. Finney, Jr. was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice appointed to the South Carolina Supreme Court since the Reconstruction Era.

Mr. Finney is one the attorneys featured in the “Proud to be a South Carolina Lawyer” video series by the South Carolina Bar. The series is designed to promote a true representation of South Carolina lawyers and their commitment to their clients and the community.

From the moment I walked in the door…I felt like I was walking into a history book, a walk back in time as we heard his personal testimony where he earned the right to lead the highest court in South Carolina.

But we knew his story was powerful, but more powerful was the love and respect that he and his wife shared over the years. As they sat side by side during the interview, they shared those special moments in time…time that has been written in the history books of South Carolina. They shared the first time they met and the numerous years they advocated together for “civil rights.”

Mr Finney earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Claflin College in 1952 then enrolled in 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, he moved to Sumter and began a full-time law practice.

In 1961, Mr. 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. Mr. 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.

In May 1994, the state’s general assembly elected Mr. Finney 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.

Here is his short story that was produced for South Carolina Bar’s “Proud to be a South Carolina Lawyer” video series.

*Reference information for this post came from the SC Bar Association and Wikipedia.