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University History

Appendix 3: Biographies of Proposed Names

Ernest A. Finney Jr.

Reasons for Naming

  • Legal representation for the Friendship 9, Black college students arrested for a lunch-counter sit-in in Rock Hill in 1961
  • Served as chairman of the South Carolina Commission on Civil Rights in 1963
  • First African American elected to the S.C. General Assembly since Reconstruction
  • First African American Circuit Court judge in South Carolina since Reconstruction
  • First African American chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court since Reconstruction


Ernest A. Finney Jr. (1931-2017)

Brief bio by Jennifer Gunter

Ernest Adolphus Finney Jr. was born in Smithfield, Virginia, on March 23, 1931.  He died in Columbia, South Carolina, on December 3, 2017.

Finney received a BA from Claflin College and a JD from South Carolina State University School of Law in 1954. Finney became a schoolteacher and waiter, with no options for practicing law due to Jim Crow laws. After marrying Frances Davenport in 1955, the Finney family moved to Sumter, South Carolina, and opened a private law practice. Among his many accomplishments was defending more than 6,000 Freedom Riders and other civil rights demonstrators. In 1961 he defended the Friendship Nine, nine students who staged one of the first sit-ins in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

His appointment as chairman of the South Carolina Advisory Commission on Civil Rights in 1963 raised his profile in the state. In 1972 he was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served for three years. After his time in the General Assembly, Finney became the first African American to serve as a Circuit Court judge in the state. He was elected as an associate justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court and would become the chief justice in 1994. Other accomplishments include National College of State Trial Judges, 1977; Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree, The Citadel and Johnson C. Smith University, 1995; Doctor of Humane Letters, S.C. State University, 1996; Doctor of Laws, Morris College, 1996; Doctorate, Claflin University; Honoree, S.C. Trial Lawyers Association, 1993; elected and qualified judge of the Third Judicial Circuit, 1976; and elected and qualified associate justice, 1985.  Finney retired from the state Supreme Court in 2000 and was named interim president of S.C. State University in 2002.



“Ernest A. Finney Jr.” South Carolina Hall of Fame. 

South Carolina African American History Calendar. “Chief Justice Ernest A. Finney, Jr.” South Carolina Department of Education

University History

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