Some people break down barriers. Others, such as Ernest Finney, shatter them.
Finney came into the world in the tiny town of Smithfield, Va. His mother died shortly after giving birth, and Finney himself barely survived delivery. But survive he did, with a toughness that would serve him well as an ambitious African-American man coming of age in a time of turmoil.
He came to South Carolina at 12 years old when his father accepted a position as dean of Claflin College in Orangeburg. He would eventually study law at S.C. State – the University of South Carolina’s law school only accepted white students at the time. He went on to defend thousands of civil rights activists during the 1960s.
Finney won election to the the S.C. House of Representatives in 1972, was elected the state’s first black Circuit Court judge in 1976, and in 1985 became the first black Supreme Court justice since Reconstruction.
He became chief justice in 1994 – a position he held until he retired in 2000.
About this series: The inaugural edition of The State newspaper was published Feb. 18, 1891. In anticipation of the 125th anniversary, the Palmetto section and this section at thestate.com are recounting each day how The State covered newsmakers and events vital to South Carolina’s history.