Judge William Augustus Bootle -- Mercer alumnus, former Law School Dean and professor, and a Lifetime Trustee -- died at his home in Macon early today.
He was born on Aug. 19, 1902, in Walterboro, S.C. He moved with his family to Nashville, Ga., in 1917, then to Reidsville approximately six months later. He graduated from Mercer University in 1924 with a Bachelor of Arts and received his law degree in 1925 from Mercer Law School (now the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University), one of the oldest law schools in the country. Judge Bootle's many contributions to the University include serving as a Law School professor and then Dean from 1933-37. He is a lifetime Mercer Trustee, after serving five years on the Board.
"Gus" Bootle was appointed U.S. Attorney in 1928. He was later appointed U.S. District judge by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954. During his distinguished legal career, he ordered the admission of African-American students to the University of Georgia, desegregation of the Bibb County Schools and access of African-Americans to the polls.
One of his numerous high-profile cases occurred in 1960 with the desegregation of the University of Georgia. When Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter stepped onto the UGA campus on Jan. 9, 1961, it was due in part to Judge Bootle who had issued a 28-page ruling in the case of Holmes v. Danner (UGA registrar Walter Danner). He found that Holmes and Hunter "are fully qualified for immediate admission" and, what's more, "would already have been admitted had it not been for their race and color."
While Judge Bootle stayed his own ruling allowing the state the opportunity to appeal, he later granted a temporary injunction restraining the governor from cutting off funds to the University. Vernon Jordan, who was a law clerk for Holmes-Hunter legal team, led the victory chant: "From Bootle to Tuttle to Black and back."
Judge Bootle was also one of many prominent Americans who called on President Clinton to grant Dr. Preston King a pardon (granted in 2000). Judge Bootle had presided over the original case in 1961, where King was charged with draft evasion and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Judge Bootle remarked with candor, "Looking back at the whole picture, the case would never have arisen if not for racial discrimination." "He has paid a big price," Judge Bootle wrote in a letter to President Clinton. "To lock him up today would amount to overkill."
In June 1998, the federal courthouse in Macon was officially renamed the William Augustus Bootle Federal Building and United States Courthouse.
In April 1999, the Mercer University Board of Trustees voted to endow a teaching chair — focused on professionalism and ethics in the practice of law — after Judge Bootle. In presenting Judge Bootle with a framed resolution signifying the chair named in his honor, University President R. Kirby Godsey stated, "He has provided the highest moral standards and integrity as a leader of this University for three-quarters of a century."
Judge Bootle's wife of many years, Virginia Childs Bootle, preceded him in death on June 24, 2004.
His funeral will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church, Macon. Visitation will be held Friday from 6-8 p.m. at Snow's Memorial Chapel on Cherry Street in Macon.