Dr. John Morton-Finney Diversity Scholar Award

For more than 20 years, Butler has been awarding the Dr. John Morton-Finney Diversity Scholar Award to students who have taken a leadership role promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in their schools or communities.


Imagine your father was a former slave and your mother a free woman, you had six siblings, and you were born in Kentucky, 1889.  Your mom died when you were 14 years old, and then you moved to Missouri.  This is the start of the life of Dr. John Morton-Finney.

In 1911, at 22 years of age, he joined the Army and served until 1914.  Being a Black man in the Army, he was a member of the Buffalo soldiers, a Black-only regiment.  Due to racism and discrimination, even though he earned the rank of corporal and sergeant, he was denied officer status.  He also served in 1918 in France during WW1 as an infantryman.  Dr. John Morton-Finney married Pauline Angeline Ray, and in 1922, they moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. They later had one daughter, Gloria Ann Morton-Finney.

Dr. John Morton-Finney earned eleven academic degrees, five of those in law.  His first degree was in 1935, and the last degree was from Butler University in 1965.  He also was fluent in seven languages.

Notable highlights to his career:

  • 1935:  Admitted as a member of the Bar of the Indiana Supreme Court
  • 1941:  Admitted as a member of the Bar of the US District Court
  • 1972:  Admitted to practice before the US Supreme Court
  • 1991:  Inducted into the National Bar Association Hall of Fame
  • 1996 (he was 107):  Retired from practicing law, believed to have been the oldest practicing attorney in the US

He was born on June 25, 1889, and passed away on January 28, 1998, at 108 years old.  His grave is in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, where his wife and daughter are also buried.

Purpose of the Dr. John Morton-Finney Leadership Program

  1. Acknowledge and celebrate Dr. John Morton-Finney, an alumnus of Butler University…a Black man who believed in education, community service, and serving the country.
  2. Acknowledge and celebrate Ovid Butler’s belief that everyone deserved an education, regardless of race.
  3. Acknowledge and provide leadership skills to students who demonstrate a passion to learn about diversity, equity, inclusion, and giving back to the community.

Cohort Model

Four professional staff members in the Division of Student Affairs will each lead one cohort of the program.  Yes, one professional staff member will be with a cohort of students for four years!  They will be creating a connection with each student in the cohort, checking-in with them on a regular basis, and watching them develop over the years.  Each year, the cohort has its own learning objectives, and the cohort leader will establish a Canvas course for the materials and resources. 

Program Description of Each Year

First year Goal: Examine self-identity and the perspectives of others

Learning objectives

  • Students will learn about Dr. John Morton-Finney and his contributions to the community
  • Students will understand their own identities
  • Students will understand diversity and common language of diversity, equity, and inclusion

Second Year Goal: Examine the community history and present context of Indianapolis through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion

Learning objectives

  • Students will have an increased awareness of the neighborhoods surrounding Butler
  • Students will understand the history and context of various communities and community organizations that are centered in the larger Indianapolis community

Third Year Goal: Examine the use of community engagement in deconstructing systems of oppression

Learning objectives

  • Students will understand the social change model of leadership and will be able to identify how to apply it to service
  • Students will increase their understanding of how to address systemic issues within society through volunteerism, civic engagement, and advocacy
  • Students will be able to analyze community needs and determine how to engage ethically and responsibly in service based on the needs of each community

Fourth Year Goal: Prepare for a successful transition to life after graduation

  • Students will be able to articulate how to implement the skills and information learned through their previous three years in the program into the next phases of their lives
  • Students will increase their knowledge of financial literacy, cooking basic meals, cleaning, health literacy, obtaining a place to live, and handling emergency situations

 I never stop studying. There’s always lots to learn. When you stop learning, that’s about the end of you.

Award recipients participate in Butler’s Dr. John Morton-Finney Leadership Program and must meet program guidelines which include, but are not limited to: attendance at monthly meetings, participation in individual and/or group community engagement projects, and engagement in professional development opportunities.

Learn more about the award application process and selection criteria.