Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia will honor retired federal judge Horace Ward—the university’s first African-American applicant—with an honorary doctor of laws degree during its spring graduate Commencement ceremony on May 9 in Stegeman Coliseum.
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia approved Ward’s honorary degree during its March 19 meeting.
“Judge Horace Ward’s legacy is a significant one in the history of the University of Georgia,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “He has made substantial contributions to our university community by delivering lectures to our students and sharing his story with our historians. I am grateful to the board of regents for allowing us the opportunity to recognize Judge Ward in this meaningful way.”
Ward’s story with the university started in September 1950 when he applied to the UGA School of Law. He had just completed a master’s degree at Atlanta University, which he received in 1950. The LaGrange native earned his bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College in 1949.
When his application to UGA was denied, Ward sought legal resolution to the matter, starting a quest said to have established an important precedent and tone in the civil rights movement in Georgia in the 1950s.
After earning a law degree from Northwestern University in 1959, Ward returned to his home state and joined the legal team—led by civil rights attorney Donald Hollowell—that represented Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault in their landmark efforts to enroll at UGA in 1961.
While a partner in the law firm of Hollowell, Ward, Moore and Alexander, Ward worked on several other significant civil rights cases throughout Georgia, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s case in DeKalb County.
In 1964, Ward became the second African-American since Reconstruction elected to the Georgia General Assembly. Ward was re-elected to four terms in the state senate and was appointed to several key committees.
In 1974, he was appointed to the Civil Court of Fulton County, making him the first African-American trial court judge in Georgia. He was elevated to Fulton County Superior Court judge in 1977. Two years later, Ward was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Ward took senior status in 1994 and retired from his post in 2012.
Ward was born in LaGrange and graduated as valedictorian from East Depot High School. A veteran of the U.S. Army, Ward served a tour of duty in Korea in the 1950s.
At UGA, Ward’s story serves as the foundation for the Foot Soldier Project for Civil Rights Studies, an interdisciplinary research effort that seeks to uncover and illuminate the history of successful efforts in the state and region that had an impact on the social justice movement. He is the subject of an award-winning biography titled “Horace T. Ward: Desegregation of the University of Georgia, Civil Rights Advocacy, and Jurisprudence,” authored by UGA School of Social Work Dean Maurice Daniels.
Daniels also served as executive producer and senior researcher on “Foot Soldier for Equal Justice, Parts I and II,” both award-winning documentaries that explore Ward’s story, the history of desegregation at UGA and the segregation policies in higher education across the country.
“Through his commitments and contributions to the University of Georgia, this state and this region, Judge Horace Ward has had and continues to have a positive impact on the lives of people in our community and in this state,” Morehead said.