Nov 17, 2004 – Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has proclaimed Wednesday as William Henry Hastie Day.
Hastie walked across the national stage of history as well as playing a big role in V.I. history. He was the first African-American to serve as governor of any U.S. jurisdiction with the exception of P.B.S. Pinchback, who served a month as acting governor of Louisiana during the Reconstruction Era.
Hastie was appointed V.I. governor by Harry S. Truman in 1946 and he served until 1949.
In 1949 Hastie was appointed to the Third United States Circuit Court of Appeals, the highest judicial position attained by an African-American at that time. He served there for 21 years, three of which he was the chief judge.
Turnbull, in a press release Tuesday, urged residents to pay tribute to Hastie for his contributions "to the advancement of self-government which we all enjoy today."
Born in Knoxville, Tenn., on Nov. 17, 1904, if Hastie were still alive today would be his 100th birthday.
According to a Tennessee State library Web page, Hastie received his primary education in the Knoxville public schools and in the schools of Washington, D. C.
Hastie attended Amherst College and graduated first in his class in 1925. Following his graduation, he taught school until 1927 and three years later earned a law degree from Harvard University.
He left private practice in 1933 and became an adviser to Franklin Delano Roosevelt on race relations and then accepted the position of assistant solicitor of the Department of the Interior.
In 1937 President Roosevelt appointed Hastie judge of the Federal District Court in the Virgin Islands.
The Tennessee State biography states, "Confirmed on March 26, 1937, he became the nation's first African-American federal magistrate. Although the Virgin Islands were ninety percent black, no person of African descent before Hastie had been appointed to a federal judgeship. Judge Hastie served on the bench for two years before resigning his judgeship to return to Howard University's School of Law as dean and professor of law.
"From 1941 to 1943, William H. Hastie served as civilian aide to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. On Jan. 15, 1943, he resigned his position as Secretary of War Stimson's civilian aide to protest the government's racial policies of segregation and discrimination in America's armed forces. Later in 1943, William Hastie was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's prestigious Springarn Medal for his distinguished career as jurist and as an uncompromising champion of equal justice.' Christmas day of that year Hastie married Beryl Lockhart of St. Thomas. The couple had two children, William H. Hastie and Karen Hastie Williams.
In 1944, Hastie supported the position of the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax, demanding senatorial authorization of the proposed law to enjoin the levy in elections."
In making his proclamation, Turnbull stated, "William Henry Hasties' invaluable contributions have greatly enriched the territory and the lives of many Virgin Islanders and all Americans in general."
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