Hatfield, Charles J. (1915-2002) | Amistad Research Center
Charles J. Hatfield Jr. was an educator and civil rights activist in Louisiana. Hatfield's efforts to enroll in Louisiana State University's law school in 1946 led to a lawsuit attempting to integrate the school. Although ultimately unsuccessful, Hatfield's efforts are viewed as one of the most important anti-discrimination lawsuits in Louisiana during the Civil Rights Movement. His work in the area of union organizing during his teaching career also reflected his activism.
Charles J. Hatfield Jr. was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on May 27, 1915. He was one of six children born to Charles and Mary Elizabeth (nee Douse) Hatfield, who moved to New Orleans shortly after the birth of Charles Jr. Charles Sr. was a chef and Mary taught school. Hatfield's maternal grandparents were Richard and Ann Maria (nee Purnell) Douse. Richard Douse was a free person of color and plasterer, who served with the Louisiana Native Guards, 2nd Regiment, during the Civil War; Ann was born a free person of color (her mother had been manumitted by Thomas R. Purnell in 1827 and, although not legally married, the couple had eight children), who also taught school.
Charles Jr. attended school intermittently and graduated from Gilbert Academy in June 1938. He then enrolled at Xavier University in New Orleans and graduated with a Bachelor of Philosophy degree in 1946 following his service in the United States Army. While in college, Hatfield married Beulah G. Ozenne in 1942. The couple had three children: Charles, Andrea, and Elliott. Hatfield worked with the postal service (where he had found employment during college) following his graduation from Xavier.
During his last semester at Xavier, Hatfield wrote to Louisiana State University and A&M College for an application to law school. Hatfield was notified by LSU officials that the university did not admit African Americans and that the state of Louisiana had authorized Southern University to establish a department of law. In February 1946, Hatfield engaged the services of A.P. Tureaud and Joseph A. Thornton to pursue litigation against LSU. Tureaud was assisted by NAACP attorneys Thurgood Marshall, Robert Carter, and Louis Berry, and the suit was filed October 1946. The lawsuit was dismissed in April 1947.
Due to threats on his life and concern for his family, Hatfield accepted an offer of a teaching fellowship at Atlanta University. He wrote his Masters thesis on the Lafitte Housing Project in New Orleans and received his M.A. in Sociology in 1948. Following graduation, Hatfield experienced problems finding employment due to his previous lawsuit. Ultimately, he returned to the post office and taught classes at Gilbert Academy. Hatfield continued his studies, receiving B.A. and M.A. degrees in Education from Xavier University. He also took courses at Southern University, New Orleans University, and UCLA; the latter based on a grant from the American Federation of Teachers.
After some difficulty, Hatfield received his teaching certificate in 1952. Hatfield then taught at Joseph S. Clark and George Washington Carver high schools in New Orleans until his retirement in 1979. During his teaching career, Hatfield was active in union organization and continued his community activism throughout his life. He received the first Honorary Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the Southern University Law Center one month prior to his death in 2002.
Wilson, Evelyn L. Laws, Customs, and Rights: Charles Hatfield and His Family, A Louisiana History. Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2004.
Labbe, Glenn. "Charles J. Hatfield: A Plaintiff's Story." The Public Defender (March/April 1993): 5.