Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Nikky Finney, July 8, 2001

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:03 - Introduction and background

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Partial Transcript: Um, this an interview with Nikky Finney.

Segment Synopsis: Finney gives her name and background information. She was born in Conway, South Carolina. She explains the fact that she has several names, which she attributes to her family traditions. She is interested in family history and photographs of her family.

Keywords: Betsy Brinson; Conway (S.C.); Family photographs; Lynn Carol Finney; Nikky Finney; Oral history

Subjects: Brinson, Betsy; Families.; Finney, Nikky; Genealogy; Oral history; Photographs

GPS: Conway (S.C.)
Map Coordinates: 33.838056, -79.056111
00:05:42 - Family history

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Partial Transcript: Did you know your grandparents?

Segment Synopsis: Finney knew her maternal grandparents very well. She discusses her family's history, including information about slavery.

Quote [0:14:49]: "Your own desire to have information can't supersede the desire of my grandmother to forget a horrific time."

Keywords: Newberry, South Carolina; Slavery; Slaves

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Families.; Farms; Genealogy; Newberry (S.C.)

GPS: Newberry (S.C.)
Map Coordinates: 34.277655, -81.61656
00:15:02 - Family stories

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned a brother.

Segment Synopsis: Finney has two brothers. She is the middle child. Finney recounts stories of her parents and their strength.

Keywords: Middle children; Siblings; Sumter, South Carolina

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Civil rights; Families.; Genealogy; Middle-born children; Race discrimination; Sumter (S.C.)

GPS: Sumter (S.C.)
Map Coordinates: 33.926944, -80.363611
00:20:58 - Caregivers

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Partial Transcript: And when you all were little, who took care of you?

Segment Synopsis: Finney was cared for by a number of very close neighbors and relatives whenever her parents both had to work.

Keywords: Child-rearing; Childcare; Civil rights

Subjects: Child rearing; Families.

00:21:48 - Civil rights movement

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Partial Transcript: And was your mother active with the civil rights struggle?

Segment Synopsis: Finney's parents participated in the civil rights movement. She was not allowed to participate directly, so she chose to participate by writing about her ideas.

Keywords: Civil rights; Integration; Writing

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Civil rights movements--United States; Race discrimination

00:24:30 - Early reading and writing

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Partial Transcript: And you were clearly very young.

Segment Synopsis: Finney loved the sound and rhythm of poetry as a young reader.

Keywords: Poetry

Subjects: Authors.; Childhood; Poetry; Writing

00:27:19 - Early schooling

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Partial Transcript: Um, talk to me a little bit about your early schooling.

Segment Synopsis: Finney recounts her experience in an integrated school at the very beginning of racial integration in the South. She and her brother were targeted by bullies, whom Finney physically fought to deal with the bullying.

Keywords: Bullying; Civil rights; Fights; Integration; Racism; Segregation

Subjects: Childhood; Civil rights; Education; Race discrimination; Segregation in education

00:35:59 - Knowing teachers in other contexts

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned, um, teachers who you knew in other ways.

Segment Synopsis: Finney discusses teachers who influenced her in her writing. When she was younger, most of the teachers who influenced her were black. As she grew older, there were more white teachers in her school, who also influenced and encouraged her.

Keywords: Teachers; Writing

Subjects: Teachers; Teaching

00:38:55 - Church

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Partial Transcript: Did your family grow up in a church?

Segment Synopsis: Finney was baptized in an Episcopalian church.

Keywords: Baptism; Episcopalian; Pawley's Island, South Carolina; Watchlight Service

Subjects: Churches; Episcopalian; Pawley's Island (S.C.); Religion

GPS: Pawley's Island (S.C.)
Map Coordinates: 33.425833, -79.125
00:45:18 - Father's practice of law

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Partial Transcript: Um, I'm interested, you, you said--because you said your father traveled...

Segment Synopsis: Finney's father practiced both civil law and criminal law. Later, he became a South Carolina state legislator, who became a circuit judge, and eventually went on to serve as the chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Keywords: Chief justices; Circuit judges; Family; Fathers; Lawyers; South Carolina Supreme Court; State legislators

Subjects: Families.; Farms; Finney, Ernest A. (Ernest Adolphus), 1931-; South Carolina. Supreme Court

00:48:06 - First job

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Partial Transcript: I want to go back to your, um, school years, Nikki.

Segment Synopsis: Finney describes her first job and how she learned to handle money responsibly.

Keywords: Finance; Jobs; Occupations; Responsibility; Work

Subjects: Employment; Farms

00:49:22 - Basketball and sports

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Partial Transcript: Um, so I was doing that. At school, um, I started playing basketball in the seventh grade.

Segment Synopsis: Finney participated in track, tennis, and basketball during high school. She played basketball until the end of her second year of college, and then quit at the suggestion of her father.

Keywords: Basketball; Talladega College; Tennis; Track

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Sports

00:51:08 - Historically Black Colleges

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Partial Transcript: I had--my folks had gone to Claflin, and sort of wanted me to go to Claflin in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

Segment Synopsis: Finney wanted to attend a historically Black college, and so her father drove her to visit Talladega. She was attracted by the history and beauty of the place.

Keywords: Black Arts Movement; Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); Nikki Giovanni; Sonia Sanchez; Talladega College

Subjects: African American universities and colleges; Black Arts movement; Claflin College (Orangeburg, S.C.); Giovanni, Nikki; Sanchez, Sonia, 1934-

00:56:27 - Amistad murals

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Partial Transcript: Talk about the murals if you would, please.

Segment Synopsis: Finney describes the Amistad murals at Talladega College.

Keywords: Civil rights; Hale Woodruff; Integration; Talladega College

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Civil rights; Race discrimination; Segregation in education; Woodruff, Hale, 1900-1980

01:02:43 - Course of study

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Partial Transcript: I, I f--I, I didn't know what to do with my writing then.

Segment Synopsis: Finney started college majoring in veterinary science. She did not like the lab work, as she was very sensitive to the animals. She switched her major to English. Finney tells a story about speaking French.

Keywords: Animals; College majors; French; Veterinarians

Subjects: Education, Higher; French language; Higher education; Talladega College

01:07:48 - Nikki Giovanni

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Partial Transcript: Um, women like Toni Cade Bambara were not that far from you.

Segment Synopsis: Finney tells the story of how she asked the poet Nikki Giovanni to look at her work. Giovanni was very encouraging. Toni Cade Bambara was also encouraging.

Keywords: Encouragement; Mentors; Nikki Giovanni; Poets; Toni Cade Bambara

Subjects: Authors.; Bambara, Toni Cade; Giovanni, Nikki; Poetry; Writing

01:14:42 - After college

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Partial Transcript: Go back though, Nikki, to when you finished college.

Segment Synopsis: Finney went to graduate school in Atlanta. She disagreed with her professors about her thesis. Finney went back to Talladega as a photographer, and then later went to Africa as a journalist. During this time, she contracted Lupus.

[Note: the segment ends abruptly]

Keywords: Graduate schools; Illnesses; Journalism; Lupus; Photography

Subjects: Education, Higher; Higher education; Lupus