The Equal Justice Society mourns the passing of Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard Law School and EJS’s Founding Board Chair.
Eva Paterson, EJS’s Founding President: “Professor Charles Ogletree died today. Hearts across the country are breaking right now with the loss of this giant. There’s so much that can be said about this brilliant, lovely man. Although he was younger than me, I admired him during my entire legal career. There would be no Equal Justice Society without Tree. In 2000 he vouched for us with the legal community and with the Ford Foundation. He was our first chair and allowed us to have our first conferences at Harvard Law School. You will read of his illustrious career in many obituaries that will be forthcoming. I want to say to his wife Pam and to his whole family that we loved him dearly. He was a ‘shining Black prince.’ ”
EJS Board Member Raymond C. Marshall was a friend and Harvard Law School classmate of Prof. Ogletree: “Tree’s loss will be felt by countless family, friends, and colleagues, in countless ways. He was an exceptional lawyer, scholar, educator, advocate, strategist, visionary, father, and friend. And so much more. His legacy is well established.”
EJS today carries the torch that Prof. Ogletree lifted for so many years. EJS President Lisa Holder is at the forefront of the reparations movement as a member of the historic California Reparations Task Force. “Professor Ogletree was one of the greatest 20th century reparationists. This year, with our focus on narrative shifting and reparations, we have come full circle to honor his legacy.”
Prof. Ogletree is well-known as a mentor to former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, a dedicated teacher who taught students that law can be a tool for social and political change.
Prof. Ogletree first achieved celebrity as moderator of “Ethics in America,” a television series in the late 1980s, but his name became well known around the country in 1991 when he represented Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Prof. Ogletree was a role model for attorneys committed to civil rights, social justice, and equality for all. He represented the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race riot as they sought reparations, advocated for victims of racial profiling, and spoke in favor of reparations for descendants of African slaves.
At Harvard Law School, he founded the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute to honor the 1922 HLS graduate who worked to dismantle Jim Crow laws, trained civil rights champions Thurgood Marshall and Oliver Hill, and spearheaded the legal strategy to end segregation in public schools.
On February 17, 2023, the Superior Court of California, County of Merced, hosted a ceremony to name the 2260 N Street, Merced, Courthouse after Prof. Ogletree, who was born in Merced on December 31, 1952.
Visit https://equaljusticesociety.org/charlesogletree to learn more about his pioneering career and watch a YouTube playlist by EJS honoring Prof. Ogletree.