Ward’s federal judicial career has stood as “a constant visible reminder of the power of the rule of law in ensuring equal rights,” said Chief Judge Julie Carnes.
“He will always be remembered as a trailblazer in the civil rights movement,” she said. “He had the courage to challenge a social order that limited the opportunities of its black citizens.”
A Morehouse College honors graduate with a master’s degree from Atlanta University, Ward was instrumental in desegregating the University of Georgia. He was the first African-American to sue for admission to an all-white college in Georgia when, as a prospective law student in 1950, he first challenged UGA’s refusal to admit him. After earning a law degree from Northwestern University in 1959, Ward joined a team of renowned civil rights lawyers who won the right for two African-American students — Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter — to desegregate UGA in 1961.
“His tenaciousness in attempting to be admitted to the University of Georgia law school paved the way for the later integration of Georgia’s public colleges,” said Carnes, who earned both her undergraduate and law degrees at UGA. “Judge Ward was a constant and visible reminder of the power of the rule of law in ensuring equal rights to all its citizens and of the importance of citizens and judges who insist that it do so.”
Ward told the Daily Report recently that his appointment by President Jimmy Carter to the federal bench was “the crowning achievement in my legal career.”
The retiring judge said his decision was prompted by his recent 85th birthday and a recognition that he had spent 50 years in public service — as the second African-American in the state’s history to be elected to the Georgia senate; as a Fulton County State Court judge; as the first African-American to become a Superior Court judge in Georgia, and, finally, as a federal judge.
Ward also practiced law with civil rights attorney Donald Hollowell and served as both an assistant county attorney in Fulton County and an assistant city attorney in Atlanta before embarking on his judicial career.
In a lecture at UGA in 2000, Ward called his unsuccessful fight to secure admission to the law school “a long and hard struggle” that played out over the course of a decade.