William Hastie was the first African American to become a federal judge. He was appointed President Franklin Roosevelt himself.
He was born in Knoxville, Tennesse, on November 17, 1904, but by 1925, Hastie had already graduated from Amherst College. Five years later, he received a Bachelor law degree and, in 1933, a Doctor of Juridical Science – both from Harvard Law School.
From 1933 to 1937, Hastie was named an Assistant Solicitor for the Department of the Interior, advising the agency on racial matters. In 1937, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration appointed Hastie to the District Court of the Virgin Islands, which made him America’s first ever Black federal judge.
Hastie also worked as an educator. In 1939, he become the Dean of Howard University’s School of Law. One of his students was Thurgood Marshall with whom he served as a co-lead lawyear in the voting rights case of Smith V. Allwright.
At the same time as Dean, Hastie served as Civilian Aid to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson from 1940 to 1942. Hastie urged a racial integration in the troops. However, in 1942, he resigned in protest when the U.S. Army created a separate air training facility specifically for African Americans.
In 1943, Hastie was awarded the Spingarn Medal given for his outstanding contributions to the Black community. He held honorary degrees from several colleges and universities and served as a trustee of Amherst College and Temple University.
Sadly, on April 14, 1976, Hastie passed away at the age of 71.