Ernest A. Finney Sr. and Ernest A. Finney Jr. Courtesy of Lew Longenecker.
Ernest A. Finney Sr. and Ernest A. Finney Jr. Courtesy of Lew Longenecker.

This is the second of a three-part series of stories written by students at Cumberland Middle School, who have researched and sponsored an historical markers related to the history the Lucyville community.

Part 1 looked at the origin of the community.

Part 2, today, details the life of Shed Dungee’s grandson, Ernest A. Finney Sr. and the experiences of his great-grandson, Ernest A. Finney Jr., the first African American elected to the South Carolina state legislature in the 20th century and later the first African American state Supreme Court justice in that state. He eventually became chief justice.

Part 3 will appear later this month.

This installment was written by the 3rd Block, US History II class of Cumberland Middle School. 

Last school year, the National Education Association Foundation awarded a grant to Cumberland Middle School to fund a Virginia Historical Roadside Marker. Seventh grade students in Power-Up (Enrichment Class) conducted research, completed primary source activities, collaboratively wrote the marker text and fact checked the proposed Lucyville Historic Marker text with primary sources. It resulted in the seventh grade US History II students’ successful application for the “Lucyville” Community. On June 15, 2023, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources formally approved the following historic marker text and location. 

Sponsor: Cumberland Middle School

Locality: Cumberland County, VA

Proposed Location: Trents Mill Road (Route 622) at the intersection with Oak Hill Road

The Rev. Reuben T. Coleman, enslaved at birth, became an entrepreneur after the Civil War. About 1.5 miles north of here he established Lucyville, named for his daughter, which in the 1890s featured a bank, post office, newspaper, and mineral springs resort that drew visitors from afar. Coleman, who challenged segregation, was the pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church and a local Republican leader and officeholder. His brother-in-law Shed Dungee, formerly enslaved, represented the area in the House of Delegates (1879-1882) and aligned with the Readjusters, a biracial coalition that achieved major reforms and supported public education. Many Lucyville residents left during the Great Migration.

The writers. Courtesy of Lew Longenecker.
The writers. Courtesy of Lew Longenecker.

This school year, current seventh and eighth grade students are speaking at field trips and planning the Lucyville Historical Marker Unveiling. First semester seventh grade students are collaboratively writing the text for a series of Story Maps leading up to the roadside marker unveiling. The following portion of the article is a summary of the second Story Map of the series, titled “Ernest A. Finney Sr. & Ernest A. Finney Jr. From Lucyville to Columbia SC Educational and Governmental Leadership,” collaboratively written by (pictured from left to right) Barry Jones, Audrey Dickstein, Christian Recktenwald, Michael Darpino, Wyatt Talmage, Xavier Bland, William DuFrain, Jeremiah Brown, Nathan Paschall, Alana Jackson-Lewis, Nikki Brandt, Baylee Haas and Makayla Robinson.

1920 Census Madison District, Cumberland County, VA (excerpt)

Shed Dungee’s daughter, Nannie Dungee, married Robert Finney. They got married on April 15, 1903, and both taught for Cumberland County Public Schools. Nannie Finney taught at the Sunnyside School, the Sugar Fork School, the Trent’s Mill School, and the Petersville School (Buckingham County). Robert Finney taught at the Sugar Fork School, the Bethlehem School, and Trent’s Mill School. Ernest A. Finney Sr. was the third of Robert and Nannie Finney’s nine children. Many of the Finney children either attended Grant Dungee’s private school, were homeschooled or attended Sugar Fork.

School Photos: National Security Fire Insurance Company: 1934-1938 Inspection and Survey Reports 

E.A. Finney Sr. and many of the Finney children attended high school classes at Virginia State College because there was not a high school for African Americans in Cumberland County until Cumberland Training School was built in 1922. Ernest A. Finney Sr. then earned a bachelor’s degree from Virginia State College and a master’s degree from Cornell University.

Campus Review (Virginia State College Newspaper), May 10, 1929 & The Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute Main Building and Presidents House

Ernest A. Finney Sr. married Colleen (Carolyn) Godwin in 1930. Ernest A. Finney Jr. was born in Smithfield, Virginia, on March 23, 1931. His mother died ten days after he was born.

1930 Marriage Register Petersburg, VA (excerpt)

After E.A. Finney Sr. graduated from Virginia State College, he was hired as a principal in Isle of Wight County. He then served as principal in Scott County, Virginia. E.A. Finney Sr. also may have been a principal in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. While a principal in Southampton County, VA, he wrote into the Richmond Times-Dispatch and was outspoken about segregation. The second semester of the 1939-1940 school year, he became principal at the Chatham School in Pittsylvania County.

1937-1939 Newspaper Excerpts

He returned to Chatham (Pittsylvania County) for the 1940-1941 school year. Toward the end of that school year, he was charged with arson. He was said to have burned down the school where he was the principal. Ernest A. Finney Jr. was 10 years old when his father was charged and went on trial.

                                           The Chatham School (LVA School Buildings Service Photographs Collection) 

At the trial, E.A. Finney Sr. was found not guilty.  His confession was removed from evidence because the police illegally forced it while he was questioned for 10 hours without an attorney. E.A. Finney Sr. was represented by Martin A. Martin, an NAACP attorney, and John W. Carter, a Democratic state senator. John W. Carter was a strong supporter of Claude Swanson (U.S. House of Representatives, Virginia governor and U.S. senator) and the Virginia Democratic Association. 

1941 Newspaper Excerpts

E.A. Finney Sr.’s father, Robert Finney, also had connections with Claude Swanson. Robert Finney used his influence with white citizens and encouraged them to vote for Claude Swanson. Although Claude Swanson supported segregation, Robert Finney backed him possibly because as a powerful elected official, Swanson “could use that power to change things for the better or for the worse” (White, M. We Lived on an Island, p. 180).

Following the trial, he worked at the War Department at the Pentagon for much of World War II. He then returned to education and was an administrator at Morgan State College, Claflin College, Elizabeth City State University, Voorhees College, Allen University, and Denmark Technical College. He was also a principal at Whitmore High School in Conway, South Carolina. After he retired, he was a full-time substitute teacher in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

The Times and Democrat August 1, 1950 (excerpt) & Photos from the Library of Congress

His son, Ernest A. Finney Jr. went to Claflin College, and then earned a law degree from South Carolina State University School of Law. After law school, E.A. Finney Jr. was a teacher and a waiter. In 1960, he and his family moved to Sumter, South Carolina. He opened a private law practice and was a political science professor at Morris College. E.A. Finny Jr. was a civil rights lawyer. He defended 6,000 Freedom Riders who challenged segregation on buses. He also defended the “Friendship 9,” who challenged segregation at a Rock Hill, South Carolina, lunch counter.

The Item August 6, 1960   The Herald February 10, 1961

E.A. Finney Jr. ran for the South Carolina Legislature in 1972, and he won. He became the first African American elected to the South Carolina Legislature after Reconstruction. E.A. Finney Jr. was also the first African American judge in South Carolina since Reconstruction. In 1985, E.A. Finney Jr. became the first African American South Carolina State Supreme Court Justice. In 1994, he was named Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The Item June 13, 1972

Ernest A. Finney Sr. died on April 26, 1992, in Orangeburg, South Carolina.  Ernest A. Finney Jr. passed away in Columbia, South Carolina, on December 3, 2017.

Bonus Sources

The June 19, 1941, Altavista Journal article incorrectly stated the Chatham School was destroyed by fire. The building is currently an office for the Pittsylvania County Community Action Agency.

2017 Photo of the Chatham School (Preservation Virginia)

Farmville Herald May 25, 1928

E.A. Finney Sr. was not the first high school principal in his family. His sister Mary Finney was not included with the rest of her family on the 1920 census because she was taking high school classes at Virginia State. Following college graduation, she was named principal at the Cumberland Training School.

School Photo from National Security Fire Insurance Company: 1934-1938

                             Farmville Herald May 25, 1928
For the entire StoryMap please visit .  Stay tuned for the next installment, “Pvt. James M. Hendrick: The Confederate Veteran Buried on Rev. R.T. Coleman’s Property”.