MORIAL: Charles Ogletree Leaves a Profound Legacy of Dedication to Justice and Fairness, Compassion and Kindness

“He might, on any given day, advise the likes of Nelson Mandela, area a name from a U.S. senator, write a short for a shopper, meet with college students over a late lunch, chair a board assembly for a nonprofit, pray over the phone with a member of his church, make a professional bono court docket look, edit a chapter for an upcoming e book, have an early dinner with a group chief and end the night by moderating a Massachusetts gubernatorial debate.” – Harvard regulation professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr.

The 1921 Tulsa Bloodbath stands as one of many worst acts of racial terrorism in the US for the reason that abolition of slavery. 

But it surely had almost light from historical past till 2003, when the late Charles J. Ogletree Jr. filed go well with on behalf of the victims and their survivors. 

Ogletree handed away final week on the age of 70, however the combat for justice in Tulsa lives on. On the day he died, a gaggle of survivors and descendants requested the Oklahoma Supreme Courtroom to reinstate their most up-to-date lawsuit, which a decrease court docket dismissed final month. 

The case Ogletree launched 20 years in the past ignited a bigger debate in regards to the legacy of slavery and segregation and the way the nation ought to make reparations. 

It was my privilege to know and collaborate usually through the years with “Tree,” as he was known as. We shared the stage for a lot of boards, debates, and panel discussions, and he contributed his invaluable insights to a number of Nationwide City League Conferences. 

It’s onerous to overstate his affect on civil rights and legal justice, each as a superb, dynamic trial legal professional, authorized scholar, and Harvard regulation professor. His biggest affect, nonetheless, could also be his mentorship of the younger college students who developed into the subsequent era of leaders – amongst them the primary Black U.S. president, the primary Black first girl, and the primary Black feminine Supreme Courtroom justice. 

As a Harvard regulation pupil, President Obama regularly attended Ogletree’s Saturday Faculty, a discussion board to help Black college students and look at vital problems with justice, race and fairness. 

Ogletree first got here to nationwide consideration when he represented Anita Hill as she testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 in regards to the sexual harassment she skilled whereas working with Supreme Courtroom nominee Clarence Thomas. He represented different well-known shoppers however continued to serve the poor and marginalized individuals who suffered most from racial discrimination and bias within the legal justice system. 

His argument earlier than the Supreme Courtroom in 1990 led to a unanimous determination that Georgia prosecutors had violated the rights of Black man, convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to demise, by putting 90% of the Black potential jurors. 

Whilst his gentle started to fade with the prognosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s illness in 2015, he continued to uplift these round him by talking out to destigmatize the situation and allay individuals’s fears. 

Ogletree was a uncommon soul who left a profound influence on the nation, his career, the establishment he served along with his entire coronary heart for 35 years, and each particular person whose life he touched. We grieve his passing and prolong our deepest sympathy to his household and the numerous mates and college students who beloved him.

Morial is president/CEO of the Nationwide City League.