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Tue, 06.25.1889

John Morton-Finney, Lawyer, and Educator born

John Morton-Finney

*John Morton-Finney was born on this date in 1889. He was a Black civil rights activist, lawyer, and educator.

He was born Morton Finney to a former slave father and a free mother, George, and Maryatta "Mattie" (Gordon) Finney, in Uniontown, Kentucky. He was one of the family's seven children. After the death of his mother in 1903, when John was fourteen, his father was unable to care for the children and sent them to live with their grandfather on his farm in Missouri. Before he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1911, Morton-Finney was enrolled at Lincoln College.

While in the U.S. Army, he was a member of the 24th U.S. Infantry Regiment (a regiment of the Buffalo soldiers) and served in the Philippines. Morton-Finney was promoted to sergeant but was denied an officer's commission due to racial discrimination. He received an honorable discharge and returned to the United States in 1914. After his return in 1914, Morton-Finney resumed his studies in Jefferson City, Missouri, where he met and married Pauline Angeline Ray. Ray, a French teacher at Lincoln College. Morton-Finney also served as an infantryman in the American Expeditionary Force in 1918 in France during World War I.

The couple moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1922 and, later, had a daughter, Gloria Ann Morton-Finney. During World War II, he was cited for directing the rationing tickets program for African Americans in Indianapolis. John and Pauline Morton-Finney were married for more than fifty-two years. Morton-Finney earned a total of five law degrees, the first one from Lincoln College in 1935, followed by law degrees from Indiana Law School and Indiana University in 1944, IU's School of Law in 1946, and Martin University in 1995.

In addition, he earned master's degrees from Indiana University in education (1925) and in French (1933). Morton-Finney also held undergraduate degrees from Lincoln Institute (1920), Iowa State University (1922), and Butler University (1965). Late in life he was awarded a Doctor of Letters (Litt.D.) from Lincoln University (1985) and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree (L.H.D) from Butler University (1989). Morton-Finney was fluent in French, Latin, Greek, and Spanish, and conversant in German and Portuguese.

He spent most of his career as an educator and lawyer. He taught languages at Fisk University in Tennessee and Lincoln University in Missouri, before moving to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he taught in the Indianapolis Public Schools for forty-seven years. Morton-Finney was a member of the original faculty at Indianapolis's Crispus Attucks High School when it opened in 1927 and later became head of its foreign language department. He also taught at Shortridge High School. Morton-Finney was admitted as a member of the Bar of the Indiana Supreme Court in 1935.

He was a member of the Bar of the U.S. District Court in 1941 and was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972. When he retired from practicing law on his 107th birthday in 1996, he was believed to have been the oldest practicing attorney in the United States. Morton-Finney was recognized during his lifetime for his public service contributions with honorary awards and certificates including from Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (June 9, 1989). At the time of his death in 1998, he was Indiana's oldest veteran.

Morton-Finney died on January 28, 1998, at the age of 108. He was buried with full military honors at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana. At the time of his death, Morton-Finney was Indiana's oldest veteran. Butler University presents an award in Morton-Finney's honor to students who demonstrate leadership in promoting "diversity and inclusion in their schools or communities."

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