But there is more to this day than that.
A class act in life, and stately in death, Karen Hastie Williams belongs in the arms of St. John’s having lived a life that made the church and her throngs of friends and colleagues proud.
“Karen Hastie Williams.” That name has a special history.
I first heard the word “Hastie” as a child growing up on 24th Street NW, about eight blocks west of St. John’s. What Black child attending D.C.’s then-racially segregated schools didn’t hear it?
There was no way “Negro History Week” could be observed in the classroom without mentioning William H. Hastie, who was Karen’s father. Just as we grade school students learned about Black achievers in history, we were told — but, being kids, mostly forgot — that Hastie, a Howard University Law School dean, had been appointed by President Harry S. Truman to a big job somewhere outside of Washington. (It was governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.) A Hastie photograph was pasted to the walls of Stevens Elementary School. And we came to believe along the way that his first name had been changed to “Judge.” (He was named to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.) The details of his achievement were filled in as the years passed by.
But Karen Hastie Williams by any other name would be hailed a trailblazer in law, and would be praised as accomplished in public policy and human rights advocacy as was her storied father.
Who was the first Black woman to clerk at the Supreme Court? Who was general counsel of the newly formed Senate Budget Committee that revolutionized Congress’s actions on spending? Who led federal procurement policy in President Jimmy Carter’s Office of Management and Budget, blasted through the glass ceiling to serve on boards of directors of major companies in corporate America, and became the first female partner and first Black partner of the prestigious international law firm, Crowell and Moring? Karen Hastie Williams.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund — in the thick of the fight for voting rights and struggle against voter suppression — owes a good deal of its financial underpinnings to Karen Hastie Williams’s past chairmanship of its Development Committee, where she shook money trees across the nation.
Academic pursuits of numerous Blacks were enhanced by the Black Student Fund, on which she served as chairman and board member for several years.
Her Crowell and Moring colleagues memorialized Williams as “a true Washington ‘insider.’” Indeed, she was. Remarkably, Karen Hastie Williams didn’t have to bully her way in. Doors opened before she knocked, because her reputation preceded her. Karen Hastie Williams was wanted — was needed — in the room.
Margaret DeLorme, past president of the Potomac Chapter of Links, Inc., one of the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer organizations, echoed the words of many who worked with Williams, when she told me, “When Karen spoke, everybody stopped and listened, because she was always on point.”
Hers is a voice now fixed in loving memory.