Charles Ogletree

Charles Ogletree

Speaker: Charles Ogletree

Harvard Law Professor


  • A Conversation with Charles Ogletree

Charles Ogletree, the Harvard Law School Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, and Founding and Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, is a prominent legal theorist who has made an international reputation by taking a hard look at complex issues of law and by working to secure the rights guaranteed by the Constitution for everyone equally under the law. Professor Ogletree has examined these issues not only in the classroom, on the Internet, and in the pages of prestigious law journals, but also in the everyday world of the public defender in the courtroom and in public television forums where these issues can be dramatically revealed. He furthers dialogue by insisting that the justice system protect rights guaranteed to those citizens by law.

Professor Ogletree is the Founding and Executive Director of Harvard Law School’s new Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, named in honor of the visionary lawyer who spearheaded the litigation in Brown v. Board of Education. The Institute will focus on a variety of issues relating to race and justice, and will sponsor research, hold conferences, and provide policy analysis, with activities beginning in the fall of 2005.

Professor Ogletree’s most recent book, co-authored with Professor Deborah Rhode of Stanford University, Brown at 50: The Unfinished Legacy, commemorates the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and was published by the American Bar Association in August 2004. His historical memoir, All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education (, was published by W.W. Norton & Company in April 2004. All Deliberate Speed has received enthusiastically favorable reviews from many distinguished scholars, including Skip Gates, David Levering Lewis, Alan Dershowitz, John Hope Franklin, and Anita Hill.

Professor Ogletree has served as Faculty Director, Associate Dean and Vice Dean of the Harvard Law School Clinical Program, which was founded in the 1970s by the late Professor Gary Bellow. He holds honorary doctorates of law from North Carolina Central University, New England School of Law, Tougaloo College, Amherst College, Wilberforce University, and the University of Miami School of Law.

Professor Ogletree earned an M.A. and B.A. (with distinction) in Political Science from Stanford University, where he was Phi Beta Kappa. He also holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School where he served as Special Projects Editor of the Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review.

Charles Ogletree began his illustrious career as a staff attorney in the District of Columbia Public Defender Service. He quickly rose through the ranks serving as Training Director, Trial Chief, and Deputy Director of the Service before entering private practice in 1985 in the law firm of Jessamy, Fort & Ogletree. Professor Ogletree is formerly “of Counsel” to the Washington, D.C. firm of Jordan, Keys & Jessamy.

Professor Ogletree is the co-author of the award-winning book, Beyond the Rodney King Story: An Investigation of Police Conduct in Minority Communities, and he frequently contributes to many journals and law reviews. He has written chapters in several books, including If You Buy the Hat, He Will Come, in Faith of Our Fathers: African American Men Reflect on Fatherhood and The Tireless Warrior for Racial Justice, which appears in Reason & Passion: Justice Brennan’s Enduring Influence. Privileges and Immunities for Basketball Stars and Other Sport Heroes? appears in Basketball Jones, published in 2000. In addition, Professor Ogletree’s commentaries on a broad range of timely and important issues have appeared in the editorial pages of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe, among other national newspapers. His commentary on how to make Black America better was published in the 2001 compilation, Lift Every Voice and Sing. Professor Ogletree has also contributed a chapter entitled The Rehnquist Revolution in Criminal Procedure, which appears in The Rehnquist Court: Judicial Activism on the Right, published in 2002

In 1991, Professor Ogletree served as Legal Counsel to Professor Anita Hill during the Senate Confirmation hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas. His reflections on those experiences are contained in The People vs. Anita Hill: The Case for Client-Centered Advocacy, a chapter of the book, Race, Gender and Power in America. He was profiled in an article in The American Lawyer entitled, Tree Time. More recently, Professor Ogletree was prominently featured in award-winning author Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s compelling book, I’ve Known Rivers, and in a Boston Globe magazine article entitled, Faith in the System.

In 2003, he was selected by Savoy Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Blacks in America and by Black Enterprise Magazine, along with Thurgood Marshall, A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., and Constance Baker Motley, as one of the legal legends among America’s top black lawyers. In 2002, he received the National Ba Association’s prestigious Equal Justice Award. In 2001, he joined a list of distinguished jurists, including former Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan, and civil rights lawyers Elaine Jones and Oliver Hill, when he received the prestigious Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit from the Washington Bar Association. He also held the Wayne Morse Chair of Law and Politics at the University of Oregon Law School and was a Scholar in Residence at Stanford University. In 2000, Professor Ogletree was selected by the National Law Journal as one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America. He has received numerous awards, including the National Conference on Black Lawyers People’s Lawyer of the Year Award, the Man of Vision Award from the Museum of Afro-American History in Boston, the 1993 Albert Sacks-Paul A. Freund Award for Teaching Excellence at Harvard Law School, and in 1995, The Ellis Island Medal of Honor and The Ruffin-Fenwick Trailblazer Award named in honor of the first African-American man and woman to graduate from Harvard Law School. In 1996, the National Bar Association honored him with its Presidential Award for The Renaissance Man of the Legal Profession. He was also awarded the International House of Blues Foundation Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major Award, The Justice Louis Brandeis Medal for Public Service, and the 21st Century Achievement Award from the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts.

In addition to his strong academic focus, Charles Ogletree’s national media experience and exposure is considerable in its scope. In 2001 and 2002, Professor Ogletree moderated the nationally-televised forums, State of the Black Union and Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, produced by Tavis Smiley Productions. Professor Ogletree also served as the moderator of four of producer Fred Friendly’s seminal ten-part series, Ethics in America, which aired on PBS. Since 1990, he has moderated dozens of similar programs, including Hard Drugs, Hard Choices, Liberty & Limits: Whose Law, Whose Order? and Credibility in the Newsroom. Professor Ogletree has also appeared as a guest commentator on Nightline, This Week with David Brinkley, McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, Crossfire, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, Cochran & Company, Burden of Proof, and Meet the Press as well as other national and local television and radio programs. He served as NBC legal commentator on the O.J. Simpson case.

Professor Ogletree also serves as the Co-Chair of the Reparations Coordinating Committee, a group of lawyers and other experts researching a lawsuit based upon a claim of reparations for descendants of African slaves, along with Randall Robinson, who authored The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks.

Professor Ogletree has a long record of commitment and service to public schools and higher education. He completed ten years of service to his alma mater, as a member of the Stanford University Board of Trustees, and for five years served as the national Chairman of the Stanford Fund, the University’s principal fund raising organization. Professor Ogletree’s development activities have also raised substantial funds for Harvard Law and the UDC, where he currently serves as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia, a land grant and historically black college and university. He continues to serve as the Chairman of the Board of the B.E.L.L. Foundation, which is committed to educating minority children in after school programs in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. In addition, Professor Ogletree served as one of the founding members and trustee of the Benjamin Banneker Charter School in Cambridge, a school that provides educational opportunities in math, science and technology to minority children in a public school setting. Professor Ogletree attended public schools in his hometown of Merced, California, and has set up a scholarship fund there that now annually provides support for needy students who want to pursue higher education. He has also provided scholarship support for students at Harvard Law School, Stanford University, and the University of the District of Columbia.

A Conversation with Charles Ogletree

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