Fulfilling the Promise
School of Law
William H. Hastie was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on November 17, 1904. In 19xx his family moved to Washington, D. C. where he graduated from Dunbar High School in 1921. Hastie attended Amherst College in Massachusetts where he graduated first in his class in 1925. He then taught at New Jersey's Bordentown Manual Training School until 1927 when he went to law school. In 1930 he earned his LL.B. degree from Harvard University Law School. While at Harvard, he was on the Harvard Law Review. Hastie then joined the faculty of Howard University Law School, and, after being admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1931, he entered private practice in association with Charles Hamilton Houston's law firm of Houston and Houston. In 1933, he earned his Doctor of Juridical Science from Harvard Law School.
In the early 1930s William H. Hastie worked first as a race relations advisor to the Roosevelt administration, and then in 1933 became assistant solicitor of the Department of the Interior.
In 1937 Hastie became the first African-American federal judge when President Roosevelt appointed him to the bench of the Federal District Court in the Virgin Islands. Hastie served on the Virgin Islands bench for two years before returning to the Howard University School of Law as dean and professor of law.
During World War II, from 1941 to 1943, William H. Hastie was a civilian aide to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. But On January 15, 1943, he resigned his position to protest racial segregation and discrimination in the armed forces. Later that year, the NAACP awarded Hastie its prestigious Springarn Medal "for his distinguished career as jurist and as an uncompromising champion of equal justice."
Between 1946 and 1949 Hastie returned to the Virgin Islands, this time as its first African-American governor. Then in 1949 he was appointed to the Third United States Circuit Court of Appeals, the highest judicial position attained by an African American to that time. Hastie served as a Third Circuit judge for twenty-one years, including from 1968 to 1971 as chief judge.
William H. Hastie, Judicial Role and Judicial Image, 121 U. Pa. L. Rev. 947 (1973)