What a life. The first African American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court and the first to serve as a Circuit Judge (the former 5th and then the 11th) in the South.
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Joseph W. Hatchett died in Tallahassee on Friday, April 30, 2021. Hatchett was 88 and was the first African American appointed to the Court. Read more: https://t.co/4VhgApr0NJ pic.twitter.com/CHxQuPl1VL— FloridaSupremeCourt (@flcourts) May 1, 2021
When a young Joseph W. Hatchett took the Florida Bar exam in 1960, he could not stay in the Miami hotel in which the test was given because of Jim Crow regulations.
Within 15 years, Hatchett would become the first African American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court.
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Hatchett died in Tallahassee on Friday, April 30, Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters said in a post Saturday morning. Hatchett was 88 and Florida’s 65th justice since statehood was granted in 1845.
Hatchett was appointed to Florida’s highest court by Gov. Reubin Askew in 1975. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter named him to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where, the Florida Supreme Court notes, “he became the first African American to serve in a federal circuit that covered the Deep South at the time.”
Twenty years later, after retiring in 1999, Hatchett took on another challenge when he joined with the NAACP to be lead attorney in the fight to preserve statewide preference programs for minorities and women in Florida.
“This is to continue to ensure that all Floridians have an equal opportunity to succeed, and that’s affirmative action,” Hatchett told the Miami Herald at the time.
That earlier indignity at the Miami hotel during his bar exam endured. Hatchett was determined that other promising young Black law students could one day not only eat lunch in the same dining room as their white counterparts — something he was warned not to do when he took the test — but that they, too, could one day ascend as he had.
“I can remember when I became a young lawyer he pulled me aside and told me, basically, that what other people thought of my dreams were none of my business,” said attorney H.T. Smith, the founding director of the Trial Advocacy Program at Florida International University College of Law.
“His whole philosophy was that group of Black lawyers in Florida in the 1960s and 1970s, we had a responsibility to open the vaults of opportunity for ourselves and for people coming behind us,” Smith said.