William Hastie
Senior Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
In office
May 31, 1971 – April 14, 1976
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
In office
October 21, 1949 – May 31, 1971
Appointed byHarry S. Truman
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded byJames Rosen
Governor of the United States Virgin Islands
In office
May 17, 1946 – October 21, 1949
Preceded byCharles Harwood
Succeeded byMorris Fidanque de Castro
Judge of the United States District Court of the Virgin Islands
In office
March 26, 1937 – July 1, 1939
Appointed byFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byGeorge Jones
Succeeded byHerman Moore
Personal details
William Henry Hastie Jr.

(1904-11-17)November 17, 1904
Knoxville, Tennessee, U.S.
DiedApril 14, 1976(1976-04-14) (aged 71)
East Norriton, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
RelationsCharles Hamilton Houston (cousin)
EducationAmherst College (BA)
Harvard University (LLB, SJD)

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

Early life and education

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, but European American is also a strong possible mix. 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, receiving an Artium Baccalaureus degree.[5] While in college, Hastie was initiated into Omega Psi Phi fraternity.[6] He received a Bachelor of Laws from Harvard Law School in 1930, followed by a Doctor of Juridical Science from the same institution in 1933.[7]


Legal work

Hastie entered the private practice of law in Washington, D.C. from 1930 to 1933.[7] From 1933 to 1937 he served as assistant solicitor for the United States Department of the Interior,[7] advising the agency on racial issues.[citation needed] He had worked with his second cousin, Charles Hamilton Houston, to establish a joint law practice.[8]

In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Hastie to the District Court of the Virgin Islands,[9] making Hastie the first African-American federal judge.[5] This was a controversial action; Democratic United States Senator William H. King of Utah, the Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary called Hastie's appointment a "blunder."[citation needed]

In 1939, Hastie resigned from the court to become the Dean of the Howard University School of Law, where he had previously taught.[2] One of his students was Thurgood Marshall, who led the Legal Defense Fund for the NAACP and was appointed as a United States Supreme Court Justice.[citation needed]

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.[10] One of Houston's sons became a name partner at the law firm.[citation needed]

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

World War II

During World War II, Hastie worked as a civilian aide to the United States Secretary of War Henry Stimson from 1940 to 1942.[7] He vigorously advocated the equal treatment of African Americans in the United States Army and their unrestricted use in the war effort.[11]

On January 15, 1943, Hastie resigned his position in protest against racially segregated training facilities in the United States Army Air Forces, inadequate training for African-American pilots, and the unequal distribution of assignments between whites and non-whites.[11] That same year, he received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, both for his lifetime achievements and in recognition of this protest action.[12]

In 1946, President Harry S. Truman appointed Hastie as Territorial Governor of the United States Virgin Islands.[7] He was the first African American to hold this position. Hastie served as governor from 1946 to 1949.[7]

Federal judicial service

Hastie received a recess appointment from President Harry S. Truman on October 21, 1949, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, to a new seat authorized by 63 Stat. 493, becoming the first African-American federal appellate judge. He was nominated to the same position by President Truman on January 5, 1950. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 19, 1950, and received his commission on July 22, 1950. He served as Chief officer as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 1968 to 1971. He assumed senior status on May 31, 1971. He was a Judge of the Temporary Emergency Court of Appeals from 1972 to 1976. His service terminated on April 14, 1976, when he died in Philadelphia while he was playing golf.[7][13]

Supreme Court consideration

As the first 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 for the Civil Rights Movement to succeed, both class and race must be considered.[14]

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy considered appointing Hastie to succeed retiring Justice Charles Whittaker.[15] But due to political calculations he did not do so, as he believed that an African-American appointee would have faced fierce opposition in the United States Senate from Southerners such as James Eastland (D-Mississippi), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Conversely, on issues other than civil rights, Hastie was considered relatively moderate, and Chief Justice Earl Warren was reportedly "violently opposed" to Hastie, as he would be too conservative as a justice.[15] Justice William O. Douglas reportedly told Robert F. Kennedy that Hastie would be "just one more vote for Frankfurter."[15] Kennedy appointed Byron White instead.

Kennedy said that he expected to make several more appointments to the Supreme Court in his presidency and that he intended to appoint Hastie to the Court at a later date.[16]


Hastie was an elected member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.[17][18] The Third Circuit Library in Philadelphia is named in Hastie's honor.[19] A permanent memorial room in his honor is hosted by The Beck Cultural Exchange Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, which also houses his personal papers.[20] In addition, an urban natural area in South Knoxville is named in his honor.[21]

In terms of African-American history, Hastie developed from a youthful radical to a scholarly, calm, almost aloof jurist. He said the judge always ought to be in the middle, for his basic responsibility "is to maintain neutrality while giving the best objective judgment of the contest between adversaries." He served as major influence for many lawyers and jurists, Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. was among those who clerked for him, and cites Hastie as his greatest influence. As a scion of an elite black family, he reflected its integrationist viewpoint. He said, "The Negro lawyer has played and continues to play, a very important role in the American Negro's struggle for equality."[22] When he resigned as the top aide on racial matters to the War Department in 1943, he said it was caused by "reactionary policies and discriminatory practices in the Army and Air Forces."[23]

Hastie's daughter, Karen Hastie Williams, was a prominent lawyer, and the first woman of colour appointed clerk to a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.[24]

See also


  1. ^ "History of the Federal Judiciary: First African American Judges", Federal Judicial Center
  2. ^ a b Hastie, William H. (1972-01-05). "Truman Library – Judge William H. Hastie Oral History Interview" (Transcript). Interviewed by Jerry N. Hess. Retrieved 2013-03-01.
  3. ^ Vile, John R. (2001). Great American lawyers: an encyclopedia. Vol. 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.). 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. ^ 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, US: Tennessee State University Library. Retrieved 2013-03-01.
  6. ^ "Official Website of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc". 2008-02-02. Archived from the original on 2008-02-02. Retrieved 2020-06-10.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Hastie, William Henry – Federal Judicial Center". www.fjc.gov.
  8. ^ "William H. Hastie 1904–1976". Encyclopedia.com. May 1, 2020. Retrieved June 10, 2020.
  9. ^ "[USC04] 18 USC 23: Court of the United States defined". uscode.house.gov.
  10. ^ https://caselaw.findlaw.com/court/us-supreme-court/321/649.html[bare URL]
  11. ^ a b James, Rawn (2013-01-22). The Double V: How Wars, Protest, and Harry Truman Desegregated America's Military (1 ed.). New York: Bloomsbury Press. ISBN 978-1608196081.
  12. ^ "Spingarn Medal". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-06-10.
  13. ^ "Judge Hastie, First Black Federal Jurist, Dead at 71". Jet. Vol. 50, no. 6. Johnson Publishing Company. 1976-04-29. p. 6.
  14. ^ Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. "William Hastie, Jr". Robert Penn Warren's Who Speaks for the Negro? Archive. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  15. ^ a b c Hutchinson, Dennis J. "The Ideal New Frontier Judge" – The Supreme Court Review Vol. 1997 (1997). p. 379.
  16. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur Meier (2002). A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1st Mariner Books ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0618219278.
  17. ^ "William Henry Hastie". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2022-08-22.
  18. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2022-08-22.
  19. ^ See Circuit Libraries
  20. ^ See [1]
  21. ^ See William Hastie Natural Area
  22. ^ Bruce M. Stave, "Hastie. William Henry" in John A. Garraty, ed., Encyclopedia of American Biography (1974) p 498.
  23. ^ Stave, 1974.
  24. ^ Risen, Clay (2021-08-08). "Karen Hastie Williams, Barrier-Breaking Lawyer, Dies at 76". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-01-28.


Legal offices Preceded byGeorge Jones Judge of the United States District Court of the Virgin Islands 1937–1939 Succeeded byHerman Moore New seat Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit 1949–1971 Succeeded byJames Rosen Preceded byAustin Leander Staley Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit 1968–1971 Succeeded byCollins J. Seitz Political offices Preceded byCharles Harwood Governor of the United States Virgin Islands 1946–1949 Succeeded byMorris Fidanque de Castro