John Morton-Finney was a Kentucky-born lover of learning. He grew up in a family of seven children in which poetry readings and political debates were common activities. He enlisted in the 24th Infantry in 1911 and received $15 a month while serving his country. Morton-Finney, who ultimately earned 11 academic degrees, was noted to have once said, “I saved my money so I could go to school when I left the army.” He had his eyes set on a big future.
Morton-Finney arrived on his first post in the Philippines on January 1, 1912. He eventually rose to corporal and sergeant, but he ran into racial discrimination when he tried to earn a commission as an officer. Realizing he had hit a wall with the army, he decided to get out. In 1914, he left the army with $300 in his pocket, and headed straight to Howard University.
Morton-Finney was the first instructor hired when Crispus Attucks High School opened in 1927. As he could speak six languages, he became the head of the foreign language department at the high school. The life-long learner also obtained five degrees in law– the first in 1935 and last at the age of 75 –and practiced law until he was 106. In total, he earned 11 degrees in fields such as law, history, mathematics, and French.
Morton-Finney was believed to have been the longest practicing attorney in the United States, taking the record from Rush Limbaugh I (1891-1996) who practiced law for 75 years. He died on January 28, 1998 at the age of 108.