William H. Hastie

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William Hastie
Judge William H. Hastie, dean of the Howard University Law School, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War, ca. 1941 - NARA - 535835.tif
Hastie in 1941
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
In office
July 22, 1950 – May 31, 1971
Preceded by new seat
Succeeded by James Rosen
Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands
In office
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Charles A. Harwood
Succeeded by Morris Fidanque de Castro
Judge of the District Court of the Virgin Islands
In office
March 26, 1937 – 1939[1]
Appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt
Personal details
Born (1904-11-17)November 17, 1904
Knoxville, Tennessee
Died April 14, 1976(1976-04-14) (aged 71)
East Norriton, Pennsylvania
Nationality United States
Alma mater Harvard Law School
Amherst College
Occupation Lawyer

William Henry Hastie, Jr. (November 17, 1904 – April 14, 1976) was an American, lawyer, judge, educator, public official, and advocate for the civil rights of African Americans. He was the first African American to serve as Governor of the United States Virgin Islands, as a federal judge,[2] and as a federal appellate judge.[1]

Early life[edit]

Hastie was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of William Henry Hastie, Sr. and Roberta Childs.[3] His maternal ancestors were African-American and Native American. Family tradition held that one female ancestor was a Malagasy princess.[4] He graduated from Dunbar High School, a top academic school for black students. Hastie attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he graduated first in his class, magna cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa.[5][6] He received a LL.B. from Harvard Law School in 1930, followed by a S.J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1933.[7]

Legal career[edit]

He was in private practice of law in Washington, DC from 1930 to 1933. From 1933 to 1937 he served as assistant solicitor for the Department of the Interior, advising the agency on racial issues. He had worked with Charles Hamilton Houston, former dean of the Howard University Law School, on setting up a joint law practice.

In 1937, President Roosevelt appointed Hastie to the United States District Court for the Virgin Islands, making Hastie the first African-American Federal judge.[6] This was a controversial action; Democratic Senator William H. King of Utah, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee called Hastie's appointment a "blunder."[citation needed]

Hastie served as a judge for two years. In 1939, he resigned from the court to become the Dean of the Howard University School of Law, where he had previously taught.[1] During his tenure as a legal professor at Howard University, Hastie had become a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity. One of his students was Thurgood Marshall, who led the Legal Defense Fund for the NAACP and was appointed as a US Supreme Court Justice.

Hastie served as a co-lead lawyer with Thurgood Marshall in the voting rights case of Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944), in which the Supreme Court ruled against white primaries. One of Houston's sons became a name partner at their law firm.

Poster from Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. News Bureau, 1943

World War II[edit]

During World War II, Hastie worked as a civilian aide to the Secretary of War Henry Stimson from 1940 to 1942.[7] He vigorously advocated the equal treatment of African Americans in the Army and their unrestricted use in the war effort.[8]

On January 15, 1943, Hastie resigned his position in protest against racially segregated training facilities in the Army Air Force, inadequate training for African-American pilots, and the unequal distribution of assignments between whites and non-whites.[8] That same year, he received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, both for his lifetime achievements and in recognition of this protest action.

This was expected to be the end of his government career. But in 1946, President Truman appointed Hastie as Territorial Governor of the U. S. Virgin Islands. He was the first African American to hold this position. Hastie served as governor from 1946 to 1949.

Federal appellate judge[edit]

Hastie received a recess appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit from Harry S. Truman on October 21, 1949 — the first African-American appellate judge. Hastie was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 19, 1950, and received his commission on July 22, 1950, going on to serve on the appellate court for 22 years.[7]

As the first and most distinguished African American on the Federal bench, Hastie was considered as a possible candidate to be the first African-American Justice of the Supreme Court. In an interview with Robert Penn Warren for the book Who Speaks for the Negro?, Hastie commented that, as a judge, he had not been able to be "out in the hustings, and to personally sample grassroots reaction," but that, in order for the civil rights movement to succeed, class and race must both be considered.[9]

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy considered appointing Hastie to succeed retiring Justice Charles Whittaker. But due to political calculations he did not. He believed that an African-American appointee would have faced fierce opposition in the Senate from Southerners such as James Eastland (D-Mississippi), chairman of the Judiciary Committee. On the other hand, on issues other than civil rights, Hastie was considered relatively conservative, and Chief Justice Earl Warren reportedly opined that Hastie would be too conservative as a justice. Kennedy appointed Byron White instead.

Kennedy said that he expected to make several more appointments to the Supreme Court in his presidency and he intended to appoint Hastie to the Court at a later date.[10]

In 1968, Hastie advanced to become Chief Judge of the Third Circuit. After three years, he stepped down as Chief Judge, and assumed senior status on May 31, 1971.[7] Hastie died in Philadelphia while playing golf on April 14, 1976.[11] The Third Circuit Library in Philadelphia is named in his honor. In addition, an urban natural area in Knoxville, TN is named in his honor.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hastie, William H. (1972-01-05). "Truman Library - Judge William H. Hastie Oral History Interview" (Transcript). Interview with Jerry N. Hess. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  2. ^ "History of the Federal Judiciary: First African American Judges", Federal Judicial Center
  3. ^ Vile, John R. (2001). Great American lawyers: an encyclopedia. 1. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1576072029. 
  4. ^ Childs, John Brown (2000). "Red Clay, Blue Hills: In Honor of My Ancestors". In Maurianne Adams, Rosie Castaneda, Madeline L. Peters, Ximena Zuniga, Warren J. Blumenfeld(eds.). Readings for Diversity and Social Justice : An Anthology on Racism, Sexism, Anti-Semitism, Heterosexism, Classism, and Ableism (1 ed.). New York ; London: Routledge. pp. 110–113. ISBN 0415926335. 
  5. ^ https://www.instagram.com/p/BL_ZetPgFS2/
  6. ^ a b Wynn, Linda T.; Bobby L. Lovett (1995-12-15). "William Henry Hastie (1904–1976)". In Linda T. Wynn, Gayle Brinkley-Johnson (eds.). A Profile of African Americans in Tennessee History. Annual Local Conference on Afro-American Culture and History. Nashville, USA: Tennessee State University Library. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  7. ^ a b c d Federal Judicial Center. "Hastie, William Henry". Biographical Directory of Federal Judges. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  8. ^ a b James, Rawn (2013-01-22). The Double V: How Wars, Protest, and Harry Truman Desegregated America's Military (1 ed.). New York: Bl0]pp[p]p[]p]p][p]p[p[]poomsbury Press. ISBN 9781608196081. 
  9. ^ Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. "William Hastie, Jr". Robert Penn Warren's Who Speaks for the Negro? Archive. Retrieved 4 February 2015. 
  10. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur Meier (2002). A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1st Mariner Books ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780618219278. 
  11. ^ "Judge Hastie, First Black Federal Jurist, Dead at 71". Jet. 50 (6). 1976-04-29. p. 6. 


  • Childs, John Brown (2000). "Red Clay, Blue Hills: In Honor of My Ancestors". In Maurianne Adams, Rosie Castaneda, Madeline L. Peters, Ximena Zuniga, Warren J. Blumenfeld(eds.). Readings for Diversity and Social Justice : An Anthology on Racism, Sexism, Anti-Semitism, Heterosexsm, Classism, and Ableism (1 ed.). New York ; London: Routledge. pp. 110–113. ISBN 0415926335. 
  • Associated Press (1937-03-02). "Hastie's Selection Termed 'Blunder'". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. p. 17. 
  • Negro Soldiers Defended. New York Times. New York, N.Y.: Oct 4, 1941. pg. 14, 1 pg
  • ARMY AIDE QUITS; PROTESTS NEGRO PILOT TREATMENT. Chicago Daily Tribune. Chicago, Ill.: Feb 1, 1943. pg. 21, 1 pg
  • Hastie Nominated For Governorship Of Virgin Islands. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Jan 6, 1946. pg. M1, 2 pgs
  • "FEDERAL JUDGE DIES; SLAVE'S GRANDSON". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif. 1976-04-15. p. 8. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2013-03-02. 
  • "Judge William Hastie, 71, of Federal Court, Dies". The New York Times. New York, NY. 1976-04-15. p. 36. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2013-03-02. 
Government offices
Preceded by
Charles A. Harwood
Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands
Succeeded by
Morris Fidanque de Castro
Legal offices
Preceded by
new office
Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Succeeded by
James Rosen