WILLIAM HASTIE: Grace Under Pressure by Gilbert Ware

WILLIAM HASTIE: Grace Under Pressure

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William Henry Hastie III (1904-1976) is known if not renowned as a colleague of Charles H. Houston and Thurgood Marshall in the NAACP's legal assault on discrimination in the 1930s and '40s, as the first black federal district judge, governor of the Virgin Islands, and the first black on the appellate bench: a record that Ware (political Science, Drexel) amplifies in ways important to perception of the civil rights struggle. What he fails to do, regrettably, is present a clear, full account of Hastie's life. Most confoundingly, he breaks off with Hastie's 1949 appellate-court confirmation--skipping, in an epilogue, to a 1976 incident (and then not noting that Hastie died at that very point). Further, Hastie's early career is a jumble--chronologically confusing, sometimes highly detailed and sometimes incomplete (e.g., the 1930s Black Cabinet). On the personal side, there is passing reference to a first marriage--then, without explanation, to a second wife. But from the outset and to increasing effect as the chronicle straightens out, Ware puts across two points: l) the salient alliance between Howard Law School (of which Houston and then Hastie was dean, where Marshall and other key figures were trained), the NAACP and other organizations, and individual, mainly black attorneys; and 2) Hastie's absolute, imperturbable commitment--a legacy from his college-graduate, activist parents. (His mother is recalled as an old lady on an early, food-store picket line.) But another set of ties figures too: Hastie followed his distant-cousin Houston to Amherst and Harvard Law School, distinguishing himself in both places; and it is not too much to say that he mightn't have won confirmation to his appointed posts--in view of his ""communist"" connections--without old-school allegiances. Yet nothing in Hastie's career is more impressive than his quick recognition of communist opportunism, his non-fear of working with communists to common ends, his refusal to apologize or repent under Cold-War fire. Other highlights include: Hastie's leading role in the New Negro Alliance (for proportionate black employment in '30s Washington), his WW II work as civilian adviser to Secretary of War Stimson (a post he resigned in protest at continued discrimination), his troubled tenure as Virgin Islands governor (undercut by local ""gutter politics""), and, in particular, his unheralded contribution to Truman's reelection. Readers will have to apply themselves--but those with a serious interest will gain admiration for Hastie and insight into a generative period in black life.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press