The New York Times
Horace Ward was his high school valedictorian, graduated with honors from Morehouse College in Atlanta in only three years and earned a master’s degree from Atlanta University. But when he applied to the University of Georgia’s law school in 1951, he was reflexively rejected because of his race, his qualifications notwithstanding.
With the support of Thurgood Marshall and others, Mr. Ward later sued, challenging the university’s policy of racial exclusion. The suit was eventually dismissed as moot — by then he had gone to another law school, outside Georgia — but it laid the groundwork for the university’s desegregation a decade later.
After graduating from Northwestern University’s law school in 1959, he was named Georgia’s first black federal judge in 1979. His swearing-in took place in the same courtroom where his lawsuit seeking admission to the university had been thrown out.
Judge Ward, 88, died on Saturday in Atlanta. His death was confirmed by the University of Georgia, which awarded him an honorary law degree two years ago. Sharon Lane, his former legal assistant, said the cause was heart failure.
The University of Georgia rejected Mr. Ward’s law school application because of the state’s segregation statutes and Constitution, under which all state funding would have been withheld from a white school if a black student were admitted. The governor at the time, Herman E. Talmadge, supported the decision.
During the trial of his lawsuit, Mr. Ward was represented principally by Constance Baker Motley, who was later elected Manhattan borough president and in 1966 became the first black woman to serve as a federal judge. The suit was ultimately dismissed in 1957 on the grounds that Mr. Ward, by then enrolled at Northwestern, lacked standing.
After he became a lawyer, Mr. Ward joined another legal challenge in which Ms. Motley and another civil rights lawyer, Donald Hollowell, argued successfully in federal court that the university’s refusal to admit black students was unconstitutional. (Among Mr. Ward’s co-counsels was Vernon Jordan, who became a leading civil rights figure and prominent Washington lawyer.)
In a 1961 decision that prompted protests by brick-hurling white students, Judge William A. Bootle ordered the university to admit its first black students, Charlayne Hunter (later Hunter-Gault) and Hamilton Holmes. Ms. Hunter-Gault became a journalist for NPR, PBS and The New York Times; Mr. Holmes a doctor and associate dean at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
In a phone interview on Wednesday, Ms. Hunter-Gault described Judge Ward as a “freedom fighter.”
“Even after he was denied” admission, she said, “he had his justice after all.”