Hayes, George E. C.

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Hayes, George E. C.

George E. C. Hayes was an attorney and Civil Rights activist, and a member of the team of lawyers who argued the landmark School Desegregation cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954.

Hayes was born July 1, 1894, in Richmond, and lived most of his life in Washington, D.C., where he attended public schools. He graduated from Brown University, in Providence, in 1915 and received his law degree from Howard University in 1918. While at Howard, he attained one of the highest academic averages on record there.

Hayes's involvement in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement began in the 1940s. As a member of the District of Columbia Board of Education from 1945 to 1949, he worked to desegregate the schools in the nation's capital. Through his efforts, he met the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) lawyers who were mounting desegregation battles in other states. Their work culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in brown v. board of education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954). Hayes was one of five NAACP lawyers, including Thurgood Marshall and James Nabrit, Jr., who convinced the High Court that Segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The Brown decision, repudiating the long-established "separate-but-equal" doctrine, marked the beginning of the end of segregation in all public accommodations. After the decision was handed down, Hayes and the other NAACP lawyers continued to press for immediate desegregation and urged the Court not to grant the states' appeals for a delay in implementation of the changes.

In 1954, Hayes clashed with Senator joseph r. mccarthy, a Wisconsin Republican who headed the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations. McCarthy, looking into possible Communist infiltration of the Armed Services, accused Annie Lee Moss, a civilian employee of the Army Signal Corps, of Communist affiliation. Hayes defended Moss, who repeatedly denied the allegations against her. He sharply criticized McCarthy's investigative methods and presumption that Moss was guilty. Ultimately, Moss was cleared of the charges, and the secretary of defense restored her to a position with the Army.

Hayes has been described as independent and a "quiet pioneer." He was a lifelong Republican, choosing an unusual affiliation for an African–American civil rights activist. In 1955, President dwight d. eisenhower appointed him to a post on the District of Columbia Public Utilities Commission, and Hayes thus became the first African American in nearly one hundred years to serve in a municipal agency in the District of Columbia. In 1962, the District of Columbia Bar Association named him to its board of directors, making him the first African American to hold office in that group.

Hayes had open and sometimes bitter differences with the younger, more militant activists who assumed leadership of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. In 1966, they criticized him for accepting membership on the previously segregated board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, one of the District of Columbia's most conservative groups. As Howard University counsel, he advised and assisted his friend Nabrit, then president of Howard, in his handling of the black power student uprising on the campus in 1967.

"[The countenancing of school segregation] by federal lawmakers … was a matter of politics … it was done as an expedient."
—George E. C. Hayes

Hayes was highly respected among his colleagues, who knew him to be calm, diligent, modest, and unassuming. He was noted for his elegance in language, manner, and dress, and he projected an image of intelligence and confidence. In addition to holding a long tenure as counsel to Howard University, Hayes acted as counsel to the NAACP for many years. He died December 20, 1968, in Washington, D.C.