Rev. Leon Finney remembered as a fighter and ‘gentleman from Woodlawn’ at funeral

More than 100 masked mourners paid their respects Saturday at the Apostolic Faith Church in Bronzeville for the “organizer’s organizer.”

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Immediate family members gathered at the casket of the Rev. Leon Finney Jr. before his funeral service at Apostolic Faith Church in Bronzeville Saturday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The Rev. Leon Finney Jr. was a “complex man.”

That’s what his friends and family repeatedly said Saturday at his funeral service.

Finney was known as “an organizer’s organizer,” who “gave a voice to the voiceless” and served as a “friend to the friendless.”

He was an iconic leader in the civil rights movement in Chicago and was a relentless advocate for community development and affordable housing. He also served as a mentor to countless people, including a “skinny guy with great dreams,” former President Barack Obama wrote in a letter that was read at the service.

But to his two children and three grandchildren, he was simply “dad” and “papa.”

Photos are displayed Saturday at the visitation and funeral service for Dr. Leon Finney Jr. at Apostolic Faith Church.

Photos are displayed Saturday at the visitation and funeral service for Dr. Leon Finney Jr. at Apostolic Faith Church.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Finney, a longtime power player in Chicago politics, died Sept. 4 at the University of Chicago Medical Center after a long-term illness. He was 82.

Despite coronavirus restrictions, more than 100 masked people showed up to the Apostolic Faith Church in Bronzeville to pay their respects, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.

Others — like Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill. — paid homage to the “Chicago icon” via video tribute.

Lightfoot was one of the first speakers to honor Finney, whose work allowed Black men and women to “thrive and on whose shoulder we stand,” the mayor said.

“Dr. Finney was many things: A minister, a community organizer and entrepreneur, a father, and ... a marine,” Lightfoot said. “And the tie that bound all of these things together was his spirit, his love and his dedication to his community, his people and public service.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks Saturday at the visitation and funeral service for Dr. Leon Finney Jr. at Apostolic Faith Church in Bronzeville.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks Saturday at the visitation and funeral service for Dr. Leon Finney Jr. at Apostolic Faith Church in Bronzeville.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

In Obama’s letter, read aloud by Finney’s granddaughter, Jaiden Cooke, the former president said, “Doc was always there for us.”

“I hope you’ll continue to draw inspiration of his words of love, support and wisdom that will live on for generations to come,” Obama wrote.

Born in Louise, Mississippi, Finney was the son of Leon Finney Sr., creator of the famed Leon’s Bar-B-Q.

But Finney Jr. took the path of public service.

He joined the Woodlawn Organization, often abbreviated as TWO, and worked to bring new houses, big developments and businesses to the area. But Finney’s leadership of the TWO, as well as other organizations and businesses, was also dogged by allegations of mismanagement and wrongdoing, as the Sun-Times reported last year amid bankruptcy hearings for the Woodlawn Development Corp.

Finney founded Christ Apostolic Church and served as its pastor until that church merged with Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, where he served as senior pastor.

Rev. Leon Finney’s photo and bunting hangs above the Metropolitan Church in the Bronzeville neighborhood as his body lies in state inside, Friday.

Rev. Leon Finney’s photo and bunting hangs above the Metropolitan Church in the Bronzeville neighborhood as his body lies in state inside, Friday.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“His legacy, his footprints and his fingerprints are all over so many important organizations, initiatives and people that are leading yet today,” Lightfoot said.

Hermene Hartman, the chief executive officer of N’Digo Publishing, described her close friend as strong, fierce and loving.

“He was a fighter. He was not going to back down no matter what,” Hartman said. “He had a strong, disciplined, steel mind. When he focused on something, just like the Marine he was, he would back it up and he usually won even if he lost.”

Finney butted heads at times with politicians, including Lightfoot. But he always put others before himself, his friends said.

“It wasn’t just him, it was always us,” Hartman said as she held back tears. “We will miss Leon, this city will be lonely without him. He raised issues, he fought the fight, and he brought us along... And it meant something to us... He was ours. He was our Leon. He was a gentleman from Woodlawn.”

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