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    Banner: Portrait Gallery

    Justice Joseph W. Hatchett

    When Florida's 65th Justice was born in Clearwater in 1932, it must have seemed the most fanciful dream that a youngster of African descent like himself could rise to the top of the State's judiciary. [PORTRAIT: Justice Joseph Hatchett]Yet, even if just a dream, it was no less of one than the dream the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., mentioned when he called upon America to honor the creed of equality embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

    Justice Joseph Hatchett has lived to see that dream become reality in his own life. Though Justice Hatchett's family was poor -- his mother a maid, and his father a fruit picker -- he still leaped the hurdles raised by racial segregation and fulfilled his dream of becoming a lawyer. This was no small task.

    The year was 1956 and Florida still lived under the rule of Jim Crow. As a black man, Hatchett was not eligible to enter Florida's white law schools, so he instead won admission to prestigious Howard University law school in Washington. When Hatchett graduated from Howard in 1959, he still faced one final challenge -- the Florida Bar Exam. That year the two-and-a-half-day exam was to be given at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in Miami, which refused accommodations for African-Americans. So Hatchett had to stay in a black hotel quite some distance away. Despite these hurdles, he went on to become a distinguished attorney and, in the 1970s, was appointed by Governor Reubin Askew to fill a vacancy on the Florida Supreme Court -- the first black ever to serve there.

    In 1976, Hatchett achieved yet another first: Despite racially-charged opposition, he became the first African-American elected to statewide office in Florida and the South when voters returned him to the Court. Then in 1979, Hatchett became the first black man appointed to the federal appeals court for the Deep South. Truly, this noted lawyer and jurist was seeing the dream come alive.

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