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Federal Judge William A. Bootle 1903-2005

BootleThe 11 January 1961 editorial cartoon penned by Clifford “Baldy” Baldowski for the Atlanta Constitution features noted Georgia Judges W. Augustus Bootle, Elbert Tuttle, and Hugo Black, cast in the roles of the famous dead-ball era baseball fielding trio Tinker, Evers, and Chance.  Baldy depicts the judges throwing out Governor Ernest Vandiver as he slides into base.  Vandiver wears a baseball uniform, labeled "School appeals." This cartoon refers to the chain of decisions made by this judicial trio that ultimately lead to the court denying the state of Georgia’s efforts to prevent the desegregation of the University of Georgia. Cartoon courtesy of the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia Libraries

William Augustus Bootle was born in Colleton County, South Carolina, in 1902. He received the A.B., L.L.B., and L.L.D. (honorary) degrees from Mercer University in 1924, 1925, and 1982, respectively. "Gus" Bootle, as his friends called him, was a virtual institution in Macon, Georgia and one of the state's most respected and experienced jurists.

Republican President Calvin Coolidge appointed him a U.S. attorney in 1929. When the Democrats returned to power with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, Bootle lost his job, returned to a Macon law practice and later became interim dean of Mercer Law School --- keeping it afloat for four years during the Depression. Appointed to the federal bench in 1954 by President Dwight Eisenhower, Bootle served as judge for the middle district of Georgia for twenty-one years, becoming a senior judge for the district in 1971. After retirement he continued presiding over federal cases, on a part-time basis, until 1981. Macon's federal courthouse was named for him in 1998. Judge William A. Bootle died Tuesday 25 January 2005 at the age of 102.

Bootle often raised the ire of white segregationists and is credited with several decisions overturning segregationist practices in the South, including landmark school desegregation rulings. He made history when he ended 175 years of segregation at the University of Georgia by ordering the immediate admission of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter in 1961. Bootle also ruled in groundbreaking Georgia voter registration suits. In 1955, he ordered Randolph County officials to reinstate 22 blacks they had arbitrarily struck from the voting rolls. Bootle also banned discrimination against blacks in public transportation. In a swift, unequivocal ruling in 1962, he abolished segregation in Georgia public transportation, ending a three-week boycott of Macon city buses. He struck down all state laws, and a Public Service Commission rule, requiring bus segregation.

Bootle exemplified immense judicial integrity and insisted on equal justice under law in a racially oppressive environment. His forward-thinking, fair-mindedness, and courageous actions played a pivotal role in the struggle for democracy in Georgia. 

Maurice C. Daniels, Ed. D with assistance from  Melissa Jones, MSW Graduate Assistant

Video Clip
Federal Judge William A. Bootle

Federal Judge Bootle responds to question from Foot Soldier Project researcher Maurice Daniels related to the landmark
Holmes v. Danner case. In 1961, Bootle ruled that evidence
showed that Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter were denied admission to the University of Georgia solely because of
their race and color.

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