William H. Hastie: Steering a Paradigm Shift for Social Justice and Integration


Government; Politics; Social Justice


Born in 1904, Hastie Jr grew to become a full-fledged lawyer, educator, and renowned judge in America. Hastie Jr was the first African American to do several things, Including becoming the United States Virgin Islands Governor

Personal Life and Death

Hastie Jr was son to William Henry Hastie, Sr and Roberta Childs of Knoxville, Tennessee. He draws his roots from the Native American and African American ancestry, which dictated many things in his life, especially in education.

As an African American, Hastie Jr attended Dunbar High School for black students and later went to Amherst College, where he graduated top in his class. He was a great academician who achieved a lot, including a bachelor’s law degree and a Doctor of Juridical Science from Harvard law school in 1930 and 1933, respectively.

Hastie Jr had a wife, Beryl Lockhart, and children, William and Karen. His career spanned out since he was a youth until he died in Philadelphia on April 14, 1976.  

A Career in Legal Affairs  

Hastie Jr was an accomplished lawyer and professional. With his degree, he went into private law practice in Washington in 1930. Three years later, in 1933, he served in the United States Department of the interior as the assistant solicitor advising on racial matters up to 1937.

In 1937, Hastie Jr became the first African American federal judge when he joined the District Court of the Virgin Islands through appointment by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After two years of serving in the court, Hastie Jr resigned in 1939 to become the dean of the School of Law, Howard University. He also worked and served in many other positions, such as teaching at Howard University before becoming the dean, being a top aide in the War Department, becoming the Virgin Islands Governor, and working in the federal judicial service.

Role in Shaping America

Hastie Jr was an admirable African American from a young age. He was a radical scholar and a distinguished lawyer who believed that the judge always needed to stay in the middle to maintain neutrality. He was loved among professionals and politicians for his wit and objectivity in court matters.   

William Henry Hastie, Jr coming from an elite black family, continued to push for the integration of all people into American society. He pursued learning, especially law, to stand a chance to articulate these matters effectively, which he managed to do.  

According to Hastie Jr, the African American lawyer was instrumental in the struggle for equality among blacks and other minorities. He was a voice that demonstrated against Jim Crow early in the days before anyone could think of it.

In 1943, Hastie Jr resigned from the War Department, citing discriminatory practices and reactionary policies in the Army and Air Forces. This resignation was part of his many other decisions to keep the solemn fight for equality and justice.

Hastie Jr received many accolades and awards for his service to humanity. In 1946, he was appointed by the then President, Harry S. Truman, as the United States Virgin Islands governor, becoming the first African American to hold such an office. 

William H. Hastie was governor until 1949. He would then serve in different positions in the Federal judicial service towards the end of 1949 until he died in 1976. 

William Henry Hastie’s Legacy Lives On!

William Henry Hastie is known for his hard work and sheer determination to learn and engage society through his profession in law. The Third Circuit Library in Philadelphia and an urban natural area in Knoxville are named in his honor. In Hastie’s honor, the Beck Cultural Exchange Center in Knoxville has also hosted a permanent memorial room.


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