Florida A&M University (FAMU) mourns the death of alumnus Elbert Hatchett, whose career as a fierce lawyer, civil rights activist and trailblazer spanned more than half a century.
“The FAMU College of Law family has lost another giant in the legal profession with the passing of Attorney Elbert Hatchett, a 1966 graduate,” said FAMU College of Law Dean Deidré Keller. “I join the faculty, students, staff, and alumni in expressing condolences to the Hatchett family during this difficult time.”
Hatchett, who was known for a rich caseload that ranged from product liability to high profile crimes, was one of two lawyers who won a federal lawsuit to desegregate the Pontiac public schools in 1968. When U.S. District Judge Damon Keith ruled in their favor, requiring busing to end the segregation, it marked the first such legal victory in a northern state.
He was the former president of the Oakland County branch of the NAACP and was involved in many civil rights cases during his decades as an attorney. His reputation grew beyond Michigan and he worked on cases in 20 other states.
Hatchett’s legal clients included some of southeast Michigan’s most prominent people. He represented ex-Detroit Lion star running back Billy Sims in a contract dispute, politician L. Brooks Patterson in a libel case and another ex-Lion, Reggie Rogers, who was convicted of killing two young men in a drunken driving accident, according to Detroit News archives.
Hatchett was a trailblazer who was one of the first Black attorneys in Oakland County and helped form one of the earliest Black-owned law firms. He worked on a wide variety of legal cases and was a settlement negotiator when the Detroit Lions fought to break their 30-year Pontiac Silverdome lease.
Hatchett returned to Tallahassee during the 2013 homecoming to offer closing remarks for a program that paid tribute to all 57 original College of Law graduates.