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William Hastie Park History

This park is named in honor of late federal Judge William Hastie. Hastie was born in Knoxville on November 17, 1904 as the third William H. Hastie. The house he that lived in as a boy still stands at the corner of Woodlawn Pike and Moody Avenue where his parents had a small chicken farm. Hastie’s father often gave lectures at the Knoxville College farm on raising poultry. His father was employed as a federal pension clerk. Roberta Child Hastie, his mother, was a former Chattanooga schoolteacher where the couple met and married.

Hastie’s parents taught him to read at an early age, and he attended Maynard Elementary School on College Street. His parents did what they could to protect him from racial segregation. They bought a horse and buggy for transportation, rather than let him ride in the “for colored only” section of streetcars. Hastie and the white children played together in their neighborhood.

Upon his father’s transfer, Hastie moved to Washington D.C. where he attended Garnet Elementary School. In 1917, he entered Dunbar High School, perhaps the top high school for blacks in the nation, where he graduated as valedictorian in 1921. Hastie was awarded a scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts. He majored in mathematics and was a member of the track team. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude. He was again valedictorian of his class. Hastie began Harvard Law School in 1927. He was the second black person ever to be elected as editor of the Harvard Law Review. After graduating from Harvard in 1930, Hastie joined his cousin Charles Houston, who was the dean of the Law School at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The men became mentors of Thurgood Marshall, who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967.

As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” Hastie was one of the first blacks to receive a significant position as assistant to the solicitor in the Department of the Interior. Hastie used this position and his influence to abolish racial segregation in federal lunch facilities.

When Hastie was appointed U.S. district judge in the Virgin Islands in 1937, he became the first black federal judge in the nation. He became the civilian aide to Secretary of War, Henry Stimson in 1940. He resigned in protest of segregation in the armed forces two years later.

At the age of 42, Hastie was appointed the first black governor of the Virgin Islands in 1946. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman nominated him for a judgeship on the U.S. court of appeals for the 3 rd Circuit in Philadelphia. He faced racial discrimination when some southern senators opposed his nomination. He had to wait nine months before he was confirmed. Named Chief Judge of that court in 1968, Hastie held that position until he retired in 1971 at age 67. After retiring, he became chairman of the U.S. Supreme Court’s committee on review of rules and appellate procedures. In addition, he was a member of the emergency court of appeals in Washington D.C. Hastie died of a heart attack on April 14, 1976.

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