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Ernest Finney Jr., Rights Lawyer in ‘Jail, Not Bail’ Case, Dies at 86


On Jan. 31, 1961, 10 black faculty college students in Rock Hill, S.C., rejecting the warning of the state’s chief regulation enforcement officer, seated themselves at a whites-only lunch counter on the native McCrory’s five-and-dime retailer and requested to be served.

Dragged by police from their stools, the protesters, most of them from Friendship Junior Faculty in Rock Hill, had been charged with breach of the peace and trespassing. They had been then hauled earlier than Choose Billy D. Hays, who gave them a selection: Both pay a $100 tremendous or spend 30 days shoveling sand on a York County chain gang.

For 9 out of the 10 protesters, the selection was clear. That they had no intention of paying fines and thus assist subsidize a segregationist native authorities. They took the jail time (realizing it will price the county cash for room and board), and in so doing helped provoke the fledgling civil rights motion.

By then, sit-ins at lunch counters and elsewhere had begun to unfold. However the Friendship 9, because the Rock Hill protesters got here to be known as, had been among the many first defendants to embrace an rising technique of resistance to authorized segregation: jail, not bail.

Their technique of embarrassing segregated Southern communities by compounding their arrest with the spectacle of being imprisoned merely for ordering lunch or sitting within the improper part of a bus or a theater, or worshiping at an all-white church, could be validated because the motion matured.

And their lawyer, Ernest A. Finney Jr., who had begun working towards full time solely in 1960 after doubling as a trainer and dealing half time in a restaurant to make ends meet, would ultimately be vindicated, too.

As a newly minted lawyer within the mid-1950s, Mr. Finney had not been invited to the state bar affiliation conference as a result of he was black. He managed to listen in on the proceedings all the identical — however solely as a result of he was working as a waiter on the time for the Ocean Forest Resort in Myrtle Seashore, the place the conference was being held.

He and his companion would later characterize hundreds of different civil rights defendants. Most misplaced their circumstances in South Carolina’s native trial courts. All however two, he would later recall, had been absolved on attraction.

Mr. Finney went on to change into South Carolina’s first black chief justice.

Fifty-four years after his shoppers had been arrested within the McCrory’s sit-in, Justice Finney returned to Rock Hill, a former textile mill city, to reargue their case. One of many unique defendants had died, however a lot of the others joined him. One arrived in a wheelchair. One other walked with a cane.

By now retired at 83, Justice Finney hobbled into the courtroom on the arm of one in every of his sons. He rose slowly to deal with Circuit Court docket Choose John C. Hayes III.

Carrying a tie emblazoned with the state’s palmetto and crescent moon brand, Justice Finney appealed to the court docket to exonerate the lads, who had been sentenced in 1961 by Choose Hayes’s uncle.

“Justice and fairness demand that this movement be granted,” Justice Finney declared.

It was. In a bittersweet rebuke to the previous, the convictions had been overturned. The sentences had been vacated. The prosecutor apologized.

“We can not rewrite historical past,” Choose Hayes stated, “however we are able to proper historical past.”

Justice Finney died on Sunday in Columbia, S.C. He was 86. His daughter, Lynn C. Finney, generally known as Nikky, stated the trigger was issues of Alzheimer’s illness. He lived in Sumter, S.C.

Reared by a widowed father who took correspondence programs in regulation however grew to become an educator as a substitute, Justice Finney graduated from regulation faculty in 1954, the identical yr the US Supreme Court docket delivered its landmark faculty desegregation resolution, Brown v. Board of Schooling.

On the time, solely a handful of black legal professionals had been working towards in South Carolina, and blacks had been excluded from juries.

In 1976, he was elected the state’s first black Circuit Court docket decide. In 1985, he was named by the Legislature to the State Supreme Court docket — the primary black to sit down on that court docket since 1877, when federal troops had been lastly withdrawn from the previous Confederacy.

When he was sworn in, Justice Finney expressed hope that his tenure on the state’s highest court docket would have “a ripple impact, in order that not solely black kids, however all kids from tough circumstances, can develop up believing they are often what they need to be.”

In 1994, he hurdled one other racial barrier when the Basic Meeting elected him chief justice.

“I want to be considered the person who did the most effective he may with what he had for so long as I may,” Justice Finney instructed The Augusta Chronicle in Georgia when he retired in 2000. “All folks have a duty to be the easiest that we might be in no matter we do, and by and enormous, for those who try this, the colour of your pores and skin turns into much less and fewer essential.”

Ernest Adolphus Finney Jr. was born on March 23, 1931, in Smithfield, a city well-known for its ham, within the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. His mom, the previous Colleen Godwin, died when he was 10 days outdated.

“I really feel a necessity to attempt to do some extra with my life than I might need in any other case,” he was as soon as quoted as saying, “to justify my existence.”

An solely youngster, he moved round Virginia and Maryland as his father modified educating jobs. They lastly settled in Orangeburg, S.C., in 1946, when the elder Mr. Finney was named dean at Claflin Faculty (now Claflin College). One fixed of their strikes was the bins of regulation books his father took with them.

“For some cause,” Justice Finney instructed The Related Press, “I’ve at all times felt that if America was to reside as much as its guarantees to all folks, I believed the regulation could be the idea for change.”

After incomes a bachelor’s diploma from Claflin in 1952, he acquired his regulation diploma from the South Carolina State College Faculty of Legislation, the all-black counterpart of the College of South Carolina Faculty of Legislation.

Moreover his daughter, a poet and English professor, Justice Finney is survived by his spouse, the previous Frances Davenport; his sons, Ernest III, a former decide and now a prosecutor in South Carolina, and Jerry, a lawyer; and 5 grandchildren.

Persuaded by a number of civil rights staff to apply regulation full time, Justice Finney teamed up with one in every of them, Matthew Perry, who later grew to become a federal decide. By his rely, Justice Finney represented some 6,000 shoppers, together with two black faculty college students charged with disorderly conduct for making an attempt to worship in an all-white Presbyterian church.

Earlier than turning into a decide, he served within the State Legislature, the place he drafted a invoice to enhance voter illustration. As chief justice, he dominated in 1999 that each one the state’s kids had been entitled to a “minimally sufficient training” in “sufficient and secure services.”

“We knew the regulation on the time was in opposition to us, however we by no means misplaced religion that what we perceived to be justice would prevail,” he stated in 2000. “After I take a look at how far we’ve got come immediately, I’ve to say, If there’s a person who must be impressed with the truth that the regulation works, I’m that man.”

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