Ernest Finney, the state's first African-American chief justice, has passed

Ernest Finney, the state's first African-American chief justice, has passed

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Former South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Ernest Finney has passed away at 86, several sources close to the family confirm.

Finney was a giant in the South Carolina legal community, becoming the first African-American to serve as the chief justice on the state's high court since reconstruction.

Finney was also a former legislator elected in 1972.

"I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Chief Justice Finney," said Sen. Lindsey Graham in a statement. "He was a legal legend and a trailblazer in the legal profession.  Chief Justice Finney's keen intellect, sharp wit, and kind disposition made him one of the most well-respected jurists in South Carolina.  He will be missed."

"Ernest Finney was a highly accomplished courtroom lawyer,  consensus building legislator and brilliant jurist whose persuasive manner and approachable personality made him one of South Carolina's most admired public figures," said Justice Jean Toal in a statement. " He never backed away from the hard tasks. He had a gentle nature and a backbone of steel.   In our almost 50 years of friendship and collaboration as fellow lawyers, legislative allies and the closest of judicial colleagues  Ernest Finney never wavered in his faith in the rule of law.  He well knew and experienced many times the slow and often incremental path of toward real equality of opportunity for all people, but he never stopped believing that, in the words of Dr. King, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice".

Finney's daughter, Nikki Finney, is an award-winning poet. Finney's family released the following statement:

"Yesterday, December, 3rd, at 4:00 pm, just before the full super moon took over the winter sky, an humble loving man slipped out of our grasp but not out of our sight. He was a great and luminous man who loved us with both hands. He was a man who loved South Carolina with both hands, too. He refused to be wooed away from the Palmetto state to any other shore. He stayed here, married his wife (Frances Davenport) of 64 years here, and raised his family here, using his brilliant mind and sensitive heart to make South Carolina better than it was -- and sometimes -- better than it thought it could be. He never asked for much in return. All he wanted was an even playing field in the game of life -- and not just for a few of us -- but for everybody. He gave us everything and asked only that we live up to our potential. We miss him terribly."

A wake for Chief Justice Finney will take place at Morris College on Friday from 4-7pm. Funeral services will be held Saturday at 10am at Claflin University. Both services will be open to the public.

Copyright 2017 WIS. All rights reserved.