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. 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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