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May 2016

Remembering Horace Ward, Renowned Judge and Civil Rights Trailblazer

by Barbara Deane


April 29, 2016

Horace Ward, renowned U.S. District Judge and civil rights advocate has died. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) announced his death on April 29, 2016 today. He was 88 years old.

Appointed in 1979 to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Judge Ward was known for his dedication to civil rights and for his unwavering commitment to challenging discrimination in Georgia’s higher education system.

A native of Georgia, Mr. Ward received his bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College and earned his master’s degree from Atlanta University in 1950. At Atlanta University, he met William Madison Boyd, chair of the political science department and president of the Georgia NAACP. 

Ward was the first African-American to apply for admission to the University of Georgia’s (UGA) School of Law but the university rejected his application due to the state’s segregation statutes and Constitution. Ward sued, challenging the university’s policy of racial exclusion.

Despite losing his challenge to attend the University of Georgia, Ward earned a juris doctor degree from Northwestern University in 1959 and returned to Georgia to practice law. He joined the legendary legal team that successfully represented Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault in their landmark effort to enroll at UGA in 1961, which included Thurgood Marshall, Robert Carter, Constance Baker Motley, A.T. Walden, E. E. Moore and Donald Hollowell. Charlayne Hunter-Gault went on to become a successful broadcast journalist, most notably on the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour on the public television channel, PBS.

In 1964, Ward became the second African-American since Reconstruction elected to the Georgia General Assembly. Ten years later, Ward became the first African-American trial court judge in Georgia when he was appointed to the Civil Court of Fulton County.

President Jimmy Carter nominated Ward as the first African American to sit on the Federal bench in Georgia. Judge Ward’s swearing-in took place in the same courtroom where his lawsuit seeking admission to the university had been thrown out more than two decades earlier.

Ward retired from the federal bench in 2012, but his life story went on to become the foundation for the University of Georgia's “Foot Soldier Project for Civil Rights Studies,” an ongoing research project that seeks to uncover and illuminate the history of successful efforts in the state that had an impact on the civil rights.
Horace Ward will be remembered as a dedicated and impassioned advocate for social justice and equality, and the NAACP is grateful and inspired by his contributions to the civil rights movement.


Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. You can read more about the NAACP’s work and its six “Game Changer” issue areas here.


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