William H. Hastie


Dr. William H. Hastie (November 171904April 14 1976) was both the first African American Governor of the United States Virgin Islands and the first African American judge on a Federal appeals court. He was considered by some as a pioneer of the civil rights movement in the United States.

Hastie was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. He graduated first in his class, magna cum laude from Amherst College in Massachusetts before attending Harvard Law School, eventually receiving a doctorate in juridical studies. He subsequently moved to Washington, D.C. and worked as a law professor at Howard University, where one of his students was future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. He also accepted an appointment as an assistant solicitor for the Department of the Interior, advising the agency on racial issues.

In 1937, he was appointed to the United States District Court for the Virgin Islands and served as a judge of that court for two years. Hastie was the first African-American to serve on a Federal court. Senator William H. King of Utah, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee called his appointment a "blunder." In 1939, he resigned from the court to become the Dean of the Howard University Law School, where he had previously taught.

During World War II, Hastie worked as a civilian aide to the Secretary of War Henry Stimson where he vigorously defended the use and equality of African American troops in the war effort. In 1943, after working for Stimson for three years, he resigned his position in protest due to the use of segregated training facilities for Army Air Force, inadequate training for African American pilots, and the unequal distribution of jobs between whites and non-whites. For this, he was given the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. Like many Spingarn Medal honorees, Hastie is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

This was expected to be the end of his government career, but he instead was appointed to be the first African American Governor of the United States Virgin Islands, a position he held from 1946 to 1949. After a successful period as Governor, he was appointed as the first African-American to a Federal appeals court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In 1968, he became Chief Judge of the court. After only three years, he "retired" as chief judge, but remained on the court as a senior judge.

President John F. Kennedy considered appointing Hastie to the Supreme Court of the United States, but political calculations prevented Kennedy from making the appointment in 1962. On the one hand, an African-American appointee would have faced congressional opposition, such as that of the segregationist Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, James Eastland; on the other hand, Chief Justice Earl Warren also reportedly opined that Hastie would be too conservative as a justice. However, Kennedy remarked that he would have several more appointments in his presidency and he intended to appoint Hastie to the Court.

Hastie died while playing golf in 1976.


  • 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 AID 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

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