• U.S.

RACES: Black Plum

2 minute read

First Negro ever appointed to the Federal judiciary was William Henry Hastie, whom Franklin Roosevelt sent to the District Court of the racially scrambled Virgin Islands (TIME, Feb. 15, 1937).Judge Hastie resigned this year to become dean of Howard University’s law school (Washington, D. C.). Last week came a second dispensation of this politically potent plum. Senator James Michael Slattery of Illinois, who needs the big Negro vote on Chicago’s South Side for re-election next year to the seat he inherited from the late “J. Ham” Lewis, got it for his former assistant on the Illinois Commerce Commission: dapper, long-faced Herman Emmons Moore, 46, one of the few Negro lawyers in Chicago with offices in the Loop district. Judge-Designate Moore, born in Jackson, Miss., is a Howard and Boston University law school graduate. Twice he has been president of the Cook County Bar Association (colored).

As in the Panama Canal Zone, the Federal District Court is Justice’s only habitation in the Virgin Islands except for police courts. All offenses for which the penalty is more than six months in jail are tried in the Federal Court. At that, it handles only about 300 cases per year. The chief litigation is divorce. Judge Hastie had only two murder convictions in his two years. Rape cases are nearly as infrequent. The Court is peripatetic, traveling between the islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix. As it goes, its criteria must change, for until a few years ago St. Thomas and St. Croix had separate assemblies, separate laws. St. Thomas, for example, does not provide capital punishment for murder. Civil cases (including probate) outrank criminal cases two to one. Contract claims and damages run in hundreds rather than thousands of dollars, but last week a new vista opened for lawing in the Virgin Islands. A soda water manufacturer and a merchant on St. Croix reported bringing in two oil wells, the Virgin’s first.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com