1931-2017

Ernest A. Finney Jr. - A pioneer of justice

Sumterite was 1st black S.C. Supreme Court chief justice since 1800s

BY ADRIENNE SARVIS
adrienne@theitem.com
Posted 12/5/17

Former South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Ernest Finney Jr., 86, died on Sunday after dedicating more than 40 years of his career to the legal system and being an advocate for equal rights during the Civil Rights Movement.

Finney Jr., …

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1931-2017

Ernest A. Finney Jr. - A pioneer of justice

Sumterite was 1st black S.C. Supreme Court chief justice since 1800s

Long associated with the Civil Rights Movement in South Carolina, former state Supreme Court Chief justice and longtime Sumter resident Ernest A. Finney Jr. was honored in 2012 with the naming of the Ernest A. Finney Jr. Civil Rights Museum in Columbia.
Long associated with the Civil Rights Movement in South Carolina, former state Supreme Court Chief justice and longtime Sumter resident Ernest A. Finney Jr. was honored in 2012 with the naming of the Ernest A. Finney Jr. Civil Rights Museum in Columbia.
SUMTER ITEM FILE PHOTO
Posted

Former South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Ernest Finney Jr., 86, died on Sunday after dedicating more than 40 years of his career to the legal system and being an advocate for equal rights during the Civil Rights Movement.

Finney Jr., born on March 23, 1931, in Smithfield, Virginia, earned a bachelor of arts degree from Claflin College in 1952 and graduated from South Carolina State College's School of Law in 1954.

He moved his family to Sumter in 1960 - during the Civil Rights Movement - after working as a public school teacher in Conway for five years after his graduation from law school.

"He was a walking encyclopedia on kindness," said poet Nikky Finney, Finney Jr.'s daughter.

He will be missed because he brought the goodness out of others, she said.

He was elected to the state Supreme Court in 1985.

Finney Jr. served as the state's first black chief justice since Reconstruction from 1994 until he retired in 2000. For his accomplishments and proven track record as a defense lawyer and civil rights advocate, Finney Jr. was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame in 2012.

The former chief justice was also elected to the state House of Representatives in 1972, served as charter chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus from 1973 to 1975 after helping found the conference and became South Carolina's first black circuit court judge when he was elected to Third Circuit Court in 1976.

Finney said her father was recruited to Sumter to help fight for young people during the Civil Rights Movement.

"He could have a smile on his face, but he was also a great warrior," she said.

He lived by the words from the book of Micah in the Bible - do justice, love mercy and walk humbly, she said.

He also taught his children to live their lives in that same manner.

"He taught us to follow our dreams and to treat people like we want to be treated," Finney said.

He always said, "Do the best you can do," she said.

"When you keep hearing that all your life, you take it to heart at some point," she said.

"He was a remarkable legal mind and a remarkable man," said South Carolina Supreme Court Justice George "Buck" James Jr., a former Third Circuit judge and Sumter native.

James Jr. began practicing law about the same time Finney Jr. was sworn in to the state Supreme Court.

Though he did not appear in front of Finney Jr. as a lawyer, James Jr. said the former chief justice was an inspiration to all.

Finney Jr.'s legacy can be seen in his family who are all top-notch people, he said.

Finney Jr.'s love for law is also shared by his two sons, Ernest "Chip" Finney III, who serves as solicitor of the Third Judicial Circuit Court, and Jerry Finney Sr., lawyer and owner of The Finney Law Firm Inc. in Columbia.

Finney Jr.'s family includes his wife, Frances; two sons, Ernest III and Jerry Sr.; daughter Nikky; and multiple grandchildren.