Remembering the late Chief Justice Finney this Black History Month

Courtesy: Fraendy Clervaud

COLUMBIA (WACH) --- WACH Fox is celebrating Black History Month with a look at some African-Americans across the Midlands who’ve made major contributions to our area.

We remember the late Chief Justice Ernest A. Finney Junior.

He was the first African – American since reconstruction to become the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

That happened in 1994.

Chief Finney died Sunday December 3, 2017.

He was 86.

He leaves behind a legacy that so many people will look up to.

I had the opportunity to interview him back in 2011.

Here’s a portion of the transcript for that interview:

Chief Finney says his love for the judicial system was inspired by his father. After his dad couldn’t become a lawyer, they left Washington D.C for South Carolina.

Chief Finney went on to graduate from SC State University School of Law in 1954. After that he moved to Sumter to start practicing law.

Finney remembers being part of the civil rights movement, representing The Friendship Nine. They were a group of African American men who participated in a sit-in in Rock Hill. The racially charged town made national headlines.

Cases like these kept coming and soon Chief Finney found himself entrenched in the judicial system eventually becoming a circuit court judge.

He was also a part of a case called the State of South Carolina versus Abbeville. That was a case which challenged the adequacy of the education system.

Chief Finney says he hoped for a different outcome.

Chief Finney was also one of the founding members of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus. He served as Chief Justice from 1994 until he retired in 2000.

His portrait now hangs inside the supreme court lobby, as a reminder to all of a local man who is now in the history books.

End of previous interview transcript.

Here’s more background on former Chief Justice Finney:

According to the State: in 1972, Finney was elected to the S.C. House, serving on its Judiciary Committee.

Four years later, he was elected the state’s first black Circuit Court judge.

In 1985, he was elected the first black Supreme Court justice.

Jonathan Jasper Wright was the first African-American to serve on the court, but he did not become chief justice.

Finney became chief justice in 1994.

When Finney retired in 2000, then-senior associate Justice Jean Toal was elected South Carolina’s first female chief justice.

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