Judge Horace Ward, civil rights pioneer
his office on the twelfth floor at 75 Spring Street, Judge Horace
Taliaferro Ward—his middle name is the same as Booker T.
Washington’s—can see Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University,
two of which gave him degrees. The University of Georgia, which he
never did attend (not for lack of trying), is too far off to glimpse.
The Richard B. Russell building in which he now sits is also a long way
from Ms. B.D. Davis’s small, segregated classroom in LaGrange, Georgia,
where he read Robinson Crusoe
and skipped fifth grade on his way to becoming valedictorian of East
Depot Street High School, a three-year graduate of Morehouse, and, at
twenty-three, the first person of color to attempt to attend UGA as a
Judge Ward, now eighty-two, recalls how he got here: “Austin T. Walden
was a lawyer from Atlanta who represented the NAACP in Georgia. He came
to LaGrange when I was a high school student. I got to see my first
black lawyer! I read about him later and thought, maybe if he succeeded
in it, I could too.”
In September 1950, Ward applied to the University of Georgia School of
Law. Nine months later, his answer came. Ward remembers the wording:
“Mr. Ward, your application for admission has been received and is
He appealed the decision. In 1952, a discrimination lawsuit was filed
in the northern Georgia federal court. Not until December 1956 did the
case go to trial. In the interim, Ward had endured a real war in Korea,
and, out in 1955, enrolled at Northwestern’s law school. After a
five-day trial, the judge dismissed Ward’s case without saying why he’d
been denied admission.
Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes had a trial of their own in
December 1960, when they attempted to gain admittance to UGA. Ward
represented them. On January 6, 1961, it was ruled that the university
had to admit them. “The judge said that if they were white they would
have been admitted a long time before,” says Ward.
In the fall of 1979, President Jimmy Carter made Ward a federal judge
on the same court that struck down his discrimination suit in 1952.
Appointed for life, he’s been there thirty years. He’ll be back again
next year, with a reduced caseload. “I don’t have any real hobbies,”
Ward says. “I don’t play golf or tennis. But I read a lot of history.”
Photograph by Joe Martinez