August 19, 2023, marked the sad farewell homegoing celebration of a great American. I was privileged to be honored with Professor Charles Ogletree during a Boston Red Sox game in August 2016, along with other community and civic activists. In March 2017, I honored Professor Ogletree during my Black History Empowerment Breakfast. He was a great lawyer, Harvard Law School professor, social justice advocate, and adviser to President Barack and Michelle Obama. Most importantly, he was the treasured husband of Pamela Ogletree, father, grandfather, and longtime member of St. Paul AME Church in Cambridge before Alzheimer's caused his family to move to Maryland.
Charles Ogletree, Jr. was the Harvard Law School Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and Founding and Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.
Professor Ogletree was the author and co-editor of several books, including The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (June 2010 Palgrave MacMillan), When Law Fails: Making Sense of Miscarriages of Justice (2009), From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America (2006), and All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education (2004).
Ogletree was born on December 31, 1952, to Charles Sr. and Willie Mae Ogletree, the first of their five children. He grew up in a rural northern California community called Merced, with a small African-American population living south of its railroad tracks. His maternal grandparents, Big Daddy and Big Mama, were an essential influence on the young Ogletree. With his grandfather, he would fish for hours, and from Big Mama, he learned how to cook and, thus, learned self-sufficiency.
He would later credit both grandparents as profoundly influencing his demeanor and tactics as a trial lawyer. However, Ogletree's parents' marriage was plagued by periodic violence, and they eventually divorced, although they remained on good terms.
A bright child who spent free hours in the public library and brought home good grades from school, his first brushes with the law—especially watching his father being taken away in cuffs after incidents of domestic violence at the Ogletree house—instilled in him a deep distrust of and feelings of powerlessness toward the law enforcement community.
Professor Ogletree graduated from high school and earned an M.A. and B.A. (with distinction) in Political Science from Stanford University, where he was Phi Beta Kappa. He also held a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He also received honorary doctorates from several universities and colleges, including Cambridge College, Wilberforce University, the University of Miami, the New England School of Law, Lincoln College, Tougaloo College, Mount Holyoke College, and Amherst College.
May his legacy be remembered by us all forever. Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.
(Biographical sources from Harvard University, the family, and https://biography.jrank.org/pages/2366/Ogletree-Jr-Charles.html.)
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