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WASHINGTON– Legendary defense attorney and Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree died on Friday at the age of 70 following a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Renowned and beloved throughout the legal community, especially in the civil rights community, “Tree,” as he was affectionately known to his friends, was consistently at the leading edge of legal thought and leveraging the law to pursue racial justice.

Damon Hewitt, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, issued the following statement:

“America has suffered a tremendous loss. Professor Ogletree, or ‘Tree’ as many of us knew him, was a giant of the profession—from the legal academy to his days as a pioneering defense attorney.  Through his calm but confident approach, he set new standards of excellence and impact that many of us still strive to achieve.

For all of his brilliance, he was a down-to-earth and approachable person and just a good human being. He was a devoted husband and father. He was an incredible friend to many and a formal or informal mentor to thousands of law students and attorneys—even those he did not teach.

Tree had a particularly special place in the hearts of Black law students and attorneys whom he took under his prodigious wing, showing us how to reach the top of our field yet never forget where we came from. From my very first time meeting him when I was a junior attorney, he always remembered me and often urged that we find a way to work together. Though we never litigated a case together, being part of strategy discussions with him or even just in his presence was always an inspiration.

Tree’s cases and legal scholarship made him part of the racial conscience of the nation. He showed us what was possible, which was often more than we had ever imagined. Seeking new legal paradigms for the future was important to him, but so was fighting for justice in real-time. His work to seek reparations for victims of the Tulsa, Oklahoma race massacre stands out as one of his most important initiatives—an effort that continues in a different form today.

Though he was cruelly taken from us by disease and then death, we will honor him and his legacy by continuing his life’s work—pushing the envelope of possibility to make the law and the moral arc of the universe bend toward justice.

We offer our deepest condolences to Tree’s family in this difficult time.”



About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law–The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real. For more information, please visit