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William H. Hastie

Dr. William H. Hastie (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, and as a Federal appellate judge.

Hastie was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. He graduated first in his class, magna cum laude from Amherst College in Massachusetts, then earned a doctorate in juridical studies from Harvard Law School. He then became a professor at Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. One of his students there was future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He also served as assistant solicitor for the Department of the Interior, advising the agency on racial issues.

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

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.

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

In 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. 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 territorial Governor of the U. S. Virgin Islands - the first African-American to hold this position. Hastie served as Governor from from 1946 to 1949.

In 1949, Truman appointed Hastie to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit - the first African-American appellate judge. Hastie served on the Appellate Court for 22 years.

As the first and most distinguished African-American on the Federal bench, Hastie was considered as a possible candidate to be the first African-America Justice of the Supreme Court.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy considered appointing Hastie to succeed retiring Justice Charles Whittaker. But political calculations prevented Kennedy from making the appointment. On the one hand, 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 remarked that he expected to make several more appointments to the Court in his presidency and that he intended to appoint Hastie to the Court at a later date.

In 1968, Hastie became Chief Judge of the 3rd Circuit Appellate Court. In 1971, after only three years, he stepped down as Chief Judge, and also took "senior status". Hastie died while playing golf in 1976.

See also


  • Hastie's Selection Termed 'Blunder'. By the Associated Press. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Mar 2, 1937. pg. 17, 1 pg
  • 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.: Apr 15, 1976. pg. 8, 1 pg
  • Judge William Hastie, 71, of Federal Court, Dies. New York Times. New York, N.Y.: Apr 15, 1976. pg. 36, 1 pg

External links

Preceded by
Charles A. Harwood
Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands
Succeeded by
Morris Fidanque de Castro


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