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Fri, 11.15.1850

Emanuel Hewlett, Lawyer, Judge, and Activist born

Emanuel Hewlett

*Emanuel Hewlett was born on this date in 1850. He was a Black attorney, judge, and civil rights activist.

Emanuel D. Molyneaux Hewlett was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 15, 1850, the son of Aaron Molyneaux Hewlett and Virginia Josephine Molyneaux Hewlett. He had two sisters, Virginia Lind and Aaronella, and two brothers, Aaron and Paul, a Shakespearean actor who performed under the name "Paul Molyneaux." Hewlett attended Cambridge public schools and graduated from Cambridge High School. He then studied at Boston University School of Law, becoming its first black graduate in 1877.

Hewlett practiced law in Boston from 1877 to 1880, then moved to Washington, DC. In 1883, he was admitted to the United States Court of Claims and the United States Supreme Court bar. In 1890, Hewlett was appointed a justice of the peace for the District of Columbia. He was reappointed for a total of sixteen years of service. Justices of the peace presided over a "poor man's court," with jurisdiction limited to civil cases involving less than $300.00. Nevertheless, this was considered a prestigious appointment for a black attorney.

In 1906, when the number of justices of the peace was reduced from ten to six, Hewlett was not reappointed by President Roosevelt. Some in the Black Press argued that this was a political decision at the highest level, involving lobbying by national black leader Booker T. Washington in favor of Washington's other black justice of the peace, Robert Terrell. Hewlett also fought against other manifestations of racial segregation as an attorney.

He filed several cases challenging denials of access to public accommodations on his behalf and for black clients. In 1884, he sued a steamboat clerk in Washington Police Court after the clerk refused to provide him with the meal to which his ticket entitled him. The case was dismissed, with the judge explaining that Hewlett was technically correct, but the government had not "maintained the issue" of enforcing equal access. In 1889, Hewlett represented George L. Pryor, a black lawyer from Norfolk, Virginia, in a suit against the doorman at Harris' Bijou Theater in Washington who had seated Pryor and a companion at the back of the theater instead of in the seats they had purchased.

In 1900, he was co-counsel in W.T. Ferguson's case against the management of the Grand Opera House. Hewlett used the courts to fight against bars and restaurants violating the Equal Services Acts of 1872 and 1873, local DC laws that barred racial discrimination in bars and restaurants, by refusing to serve black customers or trying to drive them away through tactics like ignoring or overcharging them.

In 1887, he filed a complaint against the popular restaurant Harvey's Oyster House for denying him service. Harvey was fined $100 but appealed, and eventually, the case was dropped. He also pushed back against denial of service in 1907 by alerting the federal Marshall in charge of the District of Columbia city hall that a lunchroom in the building had refused to serve him and a black colleague. Although the Marshall, who had given the lunchroom operator free use of the space, informed her that discrimination was illegal, she closed the restaurant because her white patrons would not share a facility with blacks.

Another issue with which Hewlett was engaged was interracial marriage. In 1890, he was counsel in the cases of Tutty v. State of Georgia and Ward v. State of Georgia, which stemmed from the marriage of Charles Tutty, a white man, and Rosa Ward Tutty, a black woman. They were married in Washington, DC, but when they returned to their home in Georgia, where interracial marriage was illegal, they were arrested and convicted of fornication. On appeal, the question was whether they were committing fornication because they could not legally marry (the prosecution's argument) or incapable of doing so because they were married (the argument of Hewlett and his co-counsel Judge Parker Jordan). In both cases, the guilty verdict was upheld.

Hewlett also addressed this issue in his role as justice of the peace. In 1902, he officiated at the wedding of Julia Johnson and George Wilson from Baltimore, who came to Washington and were married in his court because their home state of Maryland prohibited interracial marriage. Hewlett remained a bachelor until late in life and had no children.

By 1900, he was living as a boarder in the home of Elizabeth P. Brooks, a widow; Hewlett and Brooks were married on August 14, 1920. In 1890, after the death of his sister Virginia Hewlett Douglass, he became custodian of Virginia and Frederick Douglass Jr.'s two minor children, Charles Paul Douglass and Robert Smalls Douglass. Elizabeth Hewlett died in July 1926, aged 77. Emanuel Hewlett died on September 19, 1929, and was interred at Columbian Harmony Cemetery in Washington, DC.

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