John Morton-Finney was an American civil rights activist, lawyer, and educator with Nigerian roots who earned eleven academic degrees, including five law degrees.
Born to a former slave father and a free mother – whose ancestors were transported from the Nigerian Seaport town of Badagry, and became enslaved in America – in Kentucky on June 25, 1889, John Morton-Finney joined the U.S. Army and became a member of the 24th Infantry Regiment, otherwise known as the Buffalo Soldiers when he was 22.
He returned to the States after the war and earned degrees in math, French, and history.
Morton-Finney taught languages at Fisk University in Tennessee and at Lincoln University in Missouri where he met his heart throb ‘Pauline Ray’.
After getting married to Lincoln College teacher Pauline Ray, they moved 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.
He was the first teacher hired when the school opened in 1927 and later became the head of the school’s foreign language department.
In 1935, while teaching at Crispus Attucks, Morton-Finney earned the first of four law degrees. At 75, he earned the last of his several degrees from Butler University.
Morton-Finney was admitted as a member of the Bar of the Indiana Supreme Court in 1935, as 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.
He never got tired of learning as he believed education had no end. Even at the age of 100, he was still seen attending law school seminars as if he was a first-year student.
In a 1994 interview with the Indianapolis Star, Morton-Finney noted, “I never stop studying. There’s always lots to learn. When you stop learning, that’s about the end of you.”
Due to his Nigerian roots from his mother’s side, ninety-year-old Morton-Finney was crowned Adeniran I, Paramount Chief of Yoruba Descendants in Indiana during ceremonies held at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis on August 31, 1979.
At the age of 96, Morton-Finney was awarded a Doctor of Letters (Litt.D.) from Lincoln University in 1985. He was also the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree (L.H.D) from Butler University in 1989 at the age of 100.
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.
Two years after his death, the Indianapolis Public Schools Board honoured his 47 years as a teacher by renaming the Center for Educational Services to “Dr. John Morton-Finney Center for Educational Services.”