Henry Hastie, attorney and diplomat, was born on November 17, 1904 in Knoxville, Tennessee. He spent his childhood in Tennessee until his
family moved to Washington, D.C. Hastie graduated from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. in 1921 and four years later
received his A.B. Degree from Amherst College in Massachusetts.
Following graduation Hastie was offered fellowships for graduate work at Oxford
University and the University of Paris.
Hastie decided instead to accept a job at New Jersey’s Bordentown Manual
School where he was on the faculty until 1927, when he entered Harvard
University Law School.
In 1930 Hastie received his LL.B. degree from Harvard University. Shortly afterwards he became a member of the Howard University School of Law
faculty. Hastie was also admitted to the
District of Columbia Bar in 1931 and practiced law with his cousin Charles Hamilton Houston who later
became Dean of the Howard University Law School. Hastie returned to Harvard in 1933 to receive
his J.D. degree.
In 1933 William Henry Hastie became one of the first African American members
of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration.
He was appointed the President’s race relations advisor. Later he was given the post of assistant
solicitor for the Department of Interior.
While working for the Department he wrote a constitution for the Virgin
Islands, an American territory.
In March 1937, Hastie was appointed judge of the Federal District Court in the
Virgin Islands by President Roosevelt, becoming the nation’s first African
American Federal judge. Hastie served
for two years, and then he resigned in 1939 to become Dean and Professor of Law
at Howard University School of Law.
During his time as Dean, Hastie also served as Civilian Aid to Secretary of War
Henry L. Stimson from 1940 to 1942. Hastie
urged the racial integration of troops.
In 1942 he resigned in protest because the Army Air Force decided to
create a separate training facility for African Americans, and returned to his
duties at Howard University School of Law.
Ironically his protest prompted the Army and Navy to begin limited
experimentation with integrated units.
In 1946 President Harry Truman appointed Hastie Governor of the Virgin Islands,
a post he held until 1949. William
Hastie thus became the first African American to hold the post of governor of a
US territory. In 1949, President Truman nominated
Hastie for Judge of the Third United States Circuit Court of Appeals and on July 19, 1950 the
Senate confirmed Hastie for the position. At that time, this was the highest judicial
position held by an African American. He retired from the judgeship in 1971.
William Henry Hastie died on April 14, 1976, leaving behind his wife, the former Beryl
Lockhart, and his children, William H., Jr., and daughter Karen H. Williams.
University of Washington