Charles Ogletree

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Charles Ogletree

Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. is an Harvard University professor of law.

Early life

Charles Ogletree was born on December 31 1952, to Charles Sr. and Willie Mae Ogletree, the first of their five children. He grew up in, a rural Northern California community called Merced, "his first brushes with the law—especially watching his father being taken away in cuffs after incidents of domestic violence at the Ogletree house—instilled in him a deep distrust of and feelings of powerlessness toward the law enforcement community".

Education and radicalization

In 1970, Ogletree enrolled at Stanford University, at the time a center of black radicalism. Ogletree became a campus radical[1], organizing an Afrocentric dormitory, where he met his future wife, Pamela Barnes. He edited a campus Black Panthers newspaper called The Real News and traveled to Africa and Cuba with student activist groups. In 1973 Ogletree was president of the Black Student Union[2].

Ogletree earned a BA in political science (with distinction) in 1974 and an MA in 1975.

Students for Equity

In Charles Ogletree, was a leader of the Students for Equity group at Stanford.[3]


Charles Ogletree (A.B./A.M. 1975 Stanford University), Co-chair of ASSU, in 1973 helped organize the successful Ad Hoc Committee on the Wells Fargo Loan to South Africa, a precursor to the South Africa divestment movement of 1976-'78, as a student, now Professor at Harvard Law School, the founder of the school's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, and the author of numerous books on legal topics.[4]


Cuba's recent gains in social equality more than compensate for its economic setbacks, according to Charles Ogletree, ASSU vice president, after a summer visit to Cuba. Ogletree spent three weeks in Cuba as a guest of the Cuban Institute for Friendship of the Peoples, an organization sponsored by the Cuban government. He and five other American students were selected for the Cuban tour by the Federation of United Students of Cuba. Ogletree's invitation came after a group of members of the African Liberation Society — an organization which provides financial aid for black self-determination movements in Africa — told the student organization of his interest in Cuban society. Ogletree said what impressed him most about Cuba was the apparent lack of racism, sexism and class conflict.

"Great strides have been made in the incorporation of blacks and women into the social structure of Cuba," Ogletree said. "This is an example of the socialist revolution's successful attempt to eliminate the idea of minorities and allow everyone to participate as equals in Cuban life." No Distinctions There are no class distinctions in Cuba, Ogletree claimed. While a few older citizens still hold prejudices, the youth has rejected the idea of social class, he said. Ogletree said he was treated with extreme cordiality in all his official contacts with Cubans. He frequently ventured alone into the streets to talk informally with other people, and found them equally amicable. "I had an elementary knowledge of Spanish so I had no trouble communicating with the people,"

Ogletree said. "I learned that they have a favorable impression" of individual Americans and do not hold the individuals responsible for the actions of the U.S. government. Ogletree was especially interested in the Cuban university system. Students there spend four hours each day studying and four hours applying their knowledge in fields, factories and laboratories, he explained. He said American students would benefit from a similar program. Elections Superfluous The Cuban government has suspended the electoral process, Ogletree said, because elections would be superfluous. "Castro has the support of the people and in reality the people lead Cuba," he asserted. "When the government goes against the wishes of the people, the masses make their objections known by refusing to cooperate with the government. "For example, drinking and smoking were once prohibited, but the people insisted upon their right to use alcohol and cigarettes and the government repealed its prohibitions." "However, it's rare for the Cuban people not to follow the general plans of the Castro regime," Ogletree noted. Enthusiasm "The enthusiasm of the citizens is tremendous. There is a strong inclination among the people to want to labor hard to build a socialist society. Cubans work voluntarily for long hours building schools and hospitals," he noted. Ogletree said he is convinced that such enthusiasm is genuine since there aren't any personal benefits derived from such zeal in a society of equals. Dissent is tolerated in Cuba, according to Ogletree.

If people speak out against the government, they are permitted to hold their views, he insisted. At first their fellow citizens try to debate with them, and if they don't change, they are eventually ignored. Ogletree denied the reported existence of political prisoners in Cuba and said that Cubans are always allowed due process. Justice in Cuba is swifter than in the United States, he said. A Cuban who commits a crime usually is not detained prior to his trial, and at his hearing is judged by a tribunal of his peers, he said. Freedom of religion also is permitted, said Ogletree, who admitted that the same isn't true of all communist nations. While most young people find religion irrelevant, no one who follows a faith receives discriminatory treatment, he contended. Ogletree also claimed that educational opportunities in the nation have vastly increased since the revolution began. "

In 1958, the last year of the Bastista regime, the Cuban government spent $70 million on education," Ogletree said. "In 1973 it has allocated $700 million for education." Cuban authorities have tried to eliminate illiteracy, and have succeeded in giving Cuba the highest literacy rate in Latin America, Ogletree claimed. Hie government has also increased the number of universities from one to five and has quadrupled the enrollment of students in higher education from 11,000 to 44,000, he added. This does not include a large number of part time students who study at the expense of the government. Impressed Ogletree said that while he was impressed with Cuba, it is difficult to apply what he learned to the political situation in the United States. The differences in size, industrial development and culture make it difficult to see Cuba in an American perspective, he said. "The social situation in Cuba has improved so greatly during the years of the revolution that it is difficult to explain it to anyone who has not personally visited Cuba," Ogletree said. "I realize that what I say may sound too good to be true." Economic Problems Ogletree acknowledged the existence of severe economic problems in Cuba. "The economic blockade of Cuba by the United States has caused the Cuban nation, short in natural resources, to be deprived of many consumer goods," Ogletree said.

"The gross national product of Cuba has not advanced significantly during the years of the Castro regime, and there is a badly unbalanced ratio between labor and production." However, Ogletree predicted that the enthusiasm of the Cuban people for the development of their country will ultimately result in prosperity. "Meanwhile, the spirit of equality generated by the socialist revolution makes the economic sacrifices worthwhile," he said. "There is a lot in Cuba at which we may look positively."[5]

ASSU run

Although no petitions for the upcoming ASSU presidential election have yet been filed, at least two slates are already campaigning, and at least three others are being formed. One active slate includes incumbent ASSU Vice President Peter Van Petten, Committee of 15 Chairman and Sen. Jim Anderson, Sen. Tom Flohr, and former Sen. Charles "Buck" Schott. The other announced slate includes Stanford Committee on Political Education co-founder Kevin O'Grady, former Sen. Beth Garfield, Black Student Union Chairman and current Sen. Charles Ogletree, and Stanford McCloskey Campaign Co-Chairman Jim Friend. Others who have made tentative plans to run are ASSU Elections Commissioner Mike Nilsson; senior Fred Choate and sophomore John Kenney, representing the Young Socialists; and juniors Dave Meyer and Robert Carlos Garcia.[6]

Alternate commencement ceremony

May 1975, Several groups are planning an alternate commencement ceremony on graduation day as a protest against commencement speaker Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Currently a Harvard professor of government, Moynihan has attracted criticism from some campus groups over alleged poor scholarship in his works on the problems of black Americans. Charles Ogletree, graduate student in political science and former ASSU vice president, said alternate commencement will be on Sunday, June 15. Ogletree said "its main purpose will be to provide an alternate ceremony for black seniors, black parents and [all J those receiving M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s." Ogletree stressed that the special ceremony is "open to any graduating student who doesn't want to attend the University's commencement."

MEChA spokeswoman Maria Echaveste said chicano faculty, staff and students passed a resolution in early April supporting the black students. "We felt that inviting Moynihan to give the commencement speech was a serious insult." Echaveste said that "we will help them in any way the blacks see fit." * "We do support the black community," said Sharon Malotte, spokeswoman for the Stanford American Indian Organization, but Malotte did not know of the alternate commencement proposal. "We will help in a campaign if asked," she said. Friday the Stanford Asian Students Coordinating Committee (SASCC) voted in favor of a position paper opposing Moynihan's speaking at graduation. The paper stated that "Moynihan's selection is the latest episode in this administration's callous regard for ethnics of color. The action is not only an insult to the sensibilities of ethnic parents and students, but an exercise in abuse on the part of the University's public relations machine." SASCC stated that it regards "the Moynihan invitation as an indication of Stanford's waning commitment to all ethnics of color," and has urged "concerned members of the Stanford community to boycott the commencement exercises at which Moynihan will speak."[7]

Legal interest sparked by Angela Davis case

Charles Ogletree's first intensive experience in the courtroom sparked his interest in a career as a trial lawyer.

Ogletree attended the trial of Black Power activist and Communist Party USA member Angela Davis. Some of parts of the Davis trial were tedious, Ogletree recalled in his book I've Known Rivers, "the process and strategies were fascinating. I sat there wondering how they were going to tie all this together."

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in political science from Stanford in 1974, Ogletree stayed on a year to earn a master's degree, before moving to Harvard Law School in 1975.

Ogletree continued his political activism at Harvard and became national president of the Black Law Students Association.

Ogletree graduated J.D. in 1978.


After leaving Harvard, Ogletree worked for the District of Columbia's Public Defender's Service. Between 1985 and 1989 Ogletree was a partner in the Washington law firm of Jessamy Fort & Ogletree while concurrently serving as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School.

In 1986 Ogletree became director of Harvard's introduction to trial advocacy workshops, where students were taught that law can be "an instrument for social and political change…a tool to empower the dispossessed and disenfranchised… and a means to make the privileged more respectful of differences."

Ogletree also founded and directed the School's Criminal Justice Institute in 1990, a broad program heavily involved with the poorer communities in Boston, and began a Saturday School Program so that"African-American students could learn from other professionals of their own heritage".

Clarence Thomas case

Ogletree gained prominence in 1991 when he was asked by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People {NAACP} to write up an investigation into the legal career of nd African-American judge Clarence Thomas, a staunch Republican.

The {NNAACP) initially favored Thomas because of his race. Ogletree drafted a 30-page report on Thomas that was instrumental in the NAACP's vote of no confidence in the nominee. Ogletree became further involved in the case when charges of sexual harassment were leveled against Thomas by a law professor and former Thomas subordinate Anita Hill. Ogletree served as Hill's attorney during the controversial Senate confirmation hearings in 1991.

Harvard controversy

In 1992 Ogletree's career at Harvard became controversial when a paper he had submitted to the school's Law Review Journal was questioned by some of the publication's staff. Ogletree was eventually granted tenure and the Law Review editor censured.

Mentoring the Obamas

Ogletree claims to have mentored both Michelle Obama and Barack Obama during their respective periods at Harvard. Barack Obama participated in Ogletree's Saturday School Program, which were designed to "expose minority students, in particular, to critical issues in the study of law.." According to Ogletree the Obama's have called on him for advice since that time.[8].

I met Michelle when she started her legal career here at Harvard in the fall of 1985, and I was able to watch her develop into a very strong and powerful student leader. She was an active member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, where she served as a student attorney for indigent clients who had civil cases and needed legal help...
I met Barack three years later when he arrived at Harvard Law School in fall of 1988. He was quiet and unassuming, but had an incredibly sharp mind and a thirst for knowledge. He was a regular participant in a program that I created called the Saturday School Program, which was a series of workshops and meetings held on Saturday mornings to expose minority students, in particular, to critical issues in the study of law. Even then I saw his ability to quickly grasp the most complicated legal issues and sort them out in a clear, concise fashion.
I was faculty adviser to the Harvard Black Law Student Association. I routinely gave career advice, and often personal advice, to students who would come in with questions about where they should work, how they should use their legal skills and talent, and was it possible to do well and do good...My advice to people like Barack and Michelle was that they could easily navigate the challenges of a corporate career and find a variety of ways to serve their community—through financial support, through volunteer legal services, and through getting involved in community efforts. So this advice started then, and I guess it must have been useful enough. They have not hesitated to call on me over the past 20-plus years as needed.
It's one thing to see Michelle and Barack keep their promises by going back to Chicago and serving those communities. It's another thing to see them have the dream of leading the nation as the President and First Lady and to see that happen. I was most deeply touched during Barack's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver...It was a moment of deep reflection that I will never forget, and it is an incredible reality today to realize that not only are the President and First Lady younger than me, but they are two people that I've had the honor and pleasure of mentoring over the past 20 years.

After the election Ogletree had messages for both of his protoges.

For the President, it was a personal message about the things that he needed to do. Without getting into any details, the central point was: Make sure you keep your promises. With Michelle, it was more my sense and my hope, that has now been realized, that she would not just be a great First Lady and a phenomenal First Mom, but that she would also be able to use her many gifts and talents in the community in ways that were natural to her. I've been particularly pleased this past week to see her not only out building support for her husband's stimulus package, but talking about families and children and education and health care, where she's going to be incredibly helpful.

Recent achievements

Ogletree became the Jesse Climenko professor of law in 1998, the vice dean for Clinical Programs at Harvard in 2003, and in 2004 was appointed director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.

Reparations Coordinating Committee

In 2000 Charles Ogletree joined the Reparations Coordinating Committee, which sought to win "reparations" for descendants of African slaves[9].

The committee was convened by the TransAfrica Forum, a partner organization[10]of the radical Institute for Policy Studies. Ogletree serves[11]on the Board of TransAfrica Forum-alongside long time Communist Party USA front activist Johnnetta Cole and board chairman and Progressives for Obama founder Danny Glover[12].

The committees objectives were;

To ascertain, document, and report comparative repair and restitution in the United States and abroad on behalf of the contemporary victims of slavery and the century-long practice of de jure racial discrimination which followed slavery;
A. To detail a range of feasible relief, reform, reconciliation, and restitution initiatives to make America better for everyone.
B. To identify and structure causes of action that would be cognizable in domestic and international tribunals and courts;
C. To begin a comprehensive review of such initiatives with leading domestic and international institutions;
D. And to work cooperatively with other groups pursuing reparation claims.

The committee, which Ogletree co-chaired with Adjoa Aiyetoro {a supporter of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism} was a mixture of top trial lawyers and seasoned radical activists, including;

James Lloyd, Alfred Brophy, Michele Roberts, Kimberly Ellis, Johnnie Cochran, Randall Robinson, Dennis Sweet, Eric Miller, Sharon Cole and James Goodwin.

Protecting former Panthers

On December 8 2005, former Black Panther Party members, John L. Bowman, Hank Jones and Ray Boudreaux held a meeting at the Washington, DC office of Trans-Africa Forum. They were complaining about re-newed police investigations of a 1971 police killing in San Francisco that they had been accused of.

They had been indicted at the time by a grand jury, but were released when the court rendered a decision stating the methods used to obtain information were illegal.

The former Panthers were flanked by Danny Glover, "reparations" activist Ron Daniels, Democratic Socialists of America member Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Charles Ogletree.

Charles Ogletree, said that the community should protect the rights of the former Panthers with their lives[13].

"These gentlemen, Ray Boudreaux, Hank Jones and others have been victims of the most vicious forms of American terrorism and torture...It takes a village to protect its elders. We tell them today, through our presence here and through our commitment that we will provide a protective blanket over them. They will not come in this village and take these elders, except over our dead bodies."

Obama's Black Advisory Council

Cornel West, Charles Ogletree

Barack Obama called on Ogletree and Democratic Socialists of America member Cornel West, during his 2008 Presidential campaign. Ogletree and West both joined Obama's Black Advisory Council[14].

Ogletree has advised Obama on reforming the criminal-justice system as well on constitutional issues. He is a member of the Obama campaign's black advisory council, which also includes Cornel West, who teaches African-American studies at Princeton University. The group formed after Obama skipped a conference on African-American issues in Hampton, Va., to announce his presidential candidacy in Illinois.

"Progressive" Cabinet "nominee"

In September 2008, Chicago based socialist journal In These Times asked its editors and writers to suggest their top progressive choices for a potential Obama Cabinet.[15]

We asked that contributors weigh ideological and political considerations, with an eye toward recommending people who have both progressive credentials and at least an arguable chance at being appointed in an Obama White House.

This group of people would represent at once the most progressive, aggressive and practical Cabinet in contemporary history. Of course, it is by no means a definitive list. It is merely one proposal aimed at starting a longer discussion about the very concept of a progressive Cabinet—and why it will be important to a new administration, especially if that administration is serious about change.

Salim Muwakkil suggested Charles Ogletree for Attorney General:

For the post of attorney general in an Obama administration, Charles Ogletree Jr. would be a good choice.

Ogletree, a tireless advocate for social justice causes, is the founder and director of the Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, which focuses on issues relating to race and justice, sponsors research and provides policy analysis.
Ogletree is another one of Obama’s Harvard professors-turned-adviser. He counsels the candidate on constitutional and criminal justice issues. He would be the perfect antidote to a justice department poisoned by illegal, politicized hiring, a reprehensible tolerance for torture and a refusal to enforce civil rights legislation.
Before joining the Harvard faculty in 1985, Ogletree served as a public defender in the District of Columbia, a position that helped shape his focus on civil rights and criminal justice issues. He has since earned a reputation as a brilliant legal theorist.
In 1991, he was legal counsel to Anita Hill during the Senate confirmation hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas.
Ogletree has also been a prominent media presence, moderating several PBS forums and serving as a commentator on national news programs.
He is author of several books, including From Lynch Mobs To The Killing State: Race And The Death Penalty In America in 2006, and the 2004 book All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half Century of Brown v. Board of Education.

Ogletree is co-chair of the Reparations Coordinating Committee, a group of attorneys pursuing a legal route to reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans.

In 2000 and 2002, the National Law Journal named him one of the “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.”