Charles J. Hatfield, 87, who paved the way for blacks to study law in Louisiana, dies. (Census).(Brief Article)
Issue: July 15, 2002
Charles J. Hatfield of New Orleans, a World War II veteran whose efforts to attend segregated law schools in Louisiana helped pave the way for Blacks to study law in the state, died at Memorial Medical Center's Mercy campus in New Orleans. He was 87.
A graduate of Xavier University of New Orleans, Hatfield wrote to the registrar at Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College (LSU) in Baton Rouge in 1946 seeking admission to its law school. His letter was answered by the law school dean, who advised him that "colored students were not admitted." Tulane University and Loyola University, both in New Orleans, also offered law programs that were closed to Blacks.
Hatfield retained the services of attorneys A. P. Tureaud, Louis Berry, and Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first Black Supreme Court justice, to file suit against LSU to integrate its law school. By the time the defendants responded to Hatfield's petition, on December 16, 1946, the State Board of Education had "taken positive steps to establish a Law School for Negroes at Southern University ... to be in operation for the 1947-1948 session."
Because of fears that his life might be endangered if he remained in Louisiana, Hatfield left the state in 1947 to attend Atlanta University and became a respected educator, activist, labor organizer, and outspoken political analyst. Although Hatfield never attended Southern University, his actions helped to create what is now the Southern University Law Center, which is entering its 55th year and is one of the nation's most racially diverse law schools.
Shortly before his death, Hatfield received the first honorary juris doctor degree from Southern University Law Center at its May commencement exercises with "all the honors, rights and privileges appertaining thereunto," stated President Leon R. Tarver II in reading the degree citation.
Hatfield is survived by his wife, the former Beulah Gertrude Ozenne, three children, Charles, Andrea and Elliot, a brother and two grandsons.
Funeral mass was held recently at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, New Orleans, and burial in Mount Olivet Mausoleum.
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