In Memoriam: Charles J. Ogletree Jr. 1952-2023

Charles Ogletree, the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and the founding executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School, died from Alzheimer’s disease on August 4 in his home in Odenton, Maryland. He was 70 years old.

“Charles was a tireless advocate for civil rights, equality, human dignity, and social justice. He changed the world in so many ways, and he will be sorely missed in a world that very much needs him,” said John F. Manning, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

A native of Merced, California, Professor Ogletree earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from Stanford University. He was s a graduate of Harvard Law School..

After serving for eight years in the District of Columbia Public Defender Service, rising to the position of deputy director, Ogletree was appointed a lecturer at Harvard Law School in 1984. He was named a professor of law in 1993. Professor Ogletree was the co-author of Life Without Parole: America’s New Death Penalty? (New York University Press, 2012) and author of All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown V. Board of Education (W.W. Norton, 2004).

Professor Ogletree was a teacher of and mentor for generations of lawyers-in- training including Barak and Michelle Obama, attorney for Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearing, attorney for survivors of the Tulsa massacre, advocate for Black reparations, and a member of the board of the Legal Defense Fund from 2009 to 2015., Ted Shaw, former president of the Legal Defense Fund, stated that Professor Ogletree “lived an extraordinary life. We walked a long way through life together. Now he walks with the ancestors. I am diminished by his passing, but I am comforted that peace has come to him.”

Professor Ogletree, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, was honored with an endowed, named professorship at Harvard Law in 2017. He retired in 2020.

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