Sometimes, I have to think for a while until I get a good idea for this 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blog – which ancestor I would like to talk about for the theme of the week. Sometimes, as soon as I see the topic, I just know who I will write about. (You see, I am trying not to reuse the same set of ancestors that I already know about. I want to find out more about others each week.)
And then, there are times when, regardless of what you had planned on writing, someone else forces their way to the front of the line and demands to be written about. This week is that week.
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day. It’s a day off work for many, but since I have early morning meetings in Washington, DC, I had to travel. I was looking over my Facebook feed on the plane and saw that a cousin had posted a quote by MLK. Since his father was very active politically in the 1960s, I asked whether or not he had ever met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Then it struck me that I needed to write about him this week as the ancestor I would like to meet.
Thomas Dunn Finney, Jr. was born 20 Jun 1925 in Idabel, McCurtain County, Oklahoma to Thomas Dunn Finney and Bettie Higgs Finney. Bettie’s family had come to Idabel in 1911. I am not sure when Tom, Sr.’s family first arrived in the area. It must have been after Aunt Bettie’s family, since his WWI draft card was filed while he still lived in Tennessee in1918.
Tom Jr. was Tom Sr. and Bettie’s only child. In fact, among Bettie’s siblings, there were not a lot of children. Her sister, Lida, had a single son in 1926. Her brother, Jere Will, had just one son in 1927. And her sister Mary had just two daughters, considerably later than the three boys. I have a number of pictures of the boys together as little guys, playing around their grandmother’s home in Idabel.
Tom Finney, Sr. was a prominent trial attorney in Oklahoma. He served for a period in the state legislature, as well. Tom Finney, Jr. served as an officer in the U.S. Navy toward the end of World War II. After that, he attended the University of Oklahoma and went to work as an attorney in his father’s firm.
From 1952 to 1955, Tom served with the Central Intelligence Agency in Copenhagen, Denmark. In 1957, he moved to Washington, DC as the administrative assistant to Senator A.S. Mike Monroney (D. Oklahoma). In 1963, he joined the law firm of Clifford, Glass, McIlwain, & Finney in Washington. He practiced law as a partner there until near his death in 1978.
During his time in Washington, Tom was both a witness to and an influencer of history. He was a person that many household names of American politics went to for counsel and advice – Presidents John F. Kennedy & Lyndon B. Johnson, Senators Adalai Stevenson, Edmund Muskie, Eugene McCarthy are only a few. He counted among his circle of contacts people like Walter Mondale (future Vice President), his law partner Clark Clifford (Secretary of Defense), and Eleanor Roosevelt.
(I was going to put an image here, but it’s a stock image from ShutterStock. So, if you want to see a picture of Tom Finney, Jr and Curtis Gans working on Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign, click here. Tom’s son also has a really nice photo of Tom with President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson.)
Tom was very involved in a number of presidential campaigns, serving in different capacities. If you search for him at the JFK Library, you will find many of the big names of the day talking about how he was very influential behind the scenes. You’ll even find some sort of dirty tricks that Walter Mondale played on him to defeat his candidate in one Democratic convention.
Tom Finney was an advisor to President Kennedy for the Trade Expansion Act, for Foreign Policy and Foreign Trade Policy. In 1964, President Johnson asked Tom to go to Mississippi to investigate the murders of the civil Rights workers, Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney and to monitor the registration of black voters. He was one of the key people to work out the agreement that seated the Mississippi delegation to the 1964 Democratic Convention.
This is all a pretty amazing resume for someone that you have probably never heard of! When he died in February 1978, Senator Edmund Muskie provided a wonderful tribute to Tom Finney for the Congressional Record. It included tributes from Senator Adali E. Stevenson, Clark Clifford, and W. Devier Pierson. This is preserved as a part of Senator Muskie’s papers at Bates College. Obituaries for Tom appeared in both the New York Times and the Washington Post that recounted his career.
And just to prove that Tom made it to the big leagues, I even found him mentioned on some sites discussing conspiracy theories on the assassination of John F. Kennedy! (I’m not linking to them so as not to encourage that kind of thing!)
Tom Finney, Jr. married Sally Van Horn and raised a family. I knew Tom’s parents. Well, I knew his mom, my Aunt Bettie whom you met in previous posts. Uncle Tom Finney, Sr. died when I was not quite five years old, so my memory of him is pretty dim. I know Tom and Sally’s children, his two living daughters and his son. I get the impression that they carry on his deep concern about people and their interest in politics as a way to help people and help our common situation.
But, I never met Tom Finney. I would love to hear what he would have to say about how our nation has progressed since the 1970s. I would love to hear what he thinks about the current state of deadlock in our nation and around the world. I would love to talk to him his work for civil rights and about the changes in attitude from those his grandfather expressed in his newspaper, or those of his great-grandfather who owned slaves.
And I wonder if his reputation of being a person who could find a way for people who were not only at odds, but at each others’ throats, to find a way to move forward. I wonder if we would be in the same place now that we find, ourselves if death had not claimed him far too soon.
So, Susie, Deedie, and Todd, that’s why your dad is the ancestor I would like to meet and get to know.