Interview SummaryJohn Wesley Hatch was born in Louisville, Kentucky. His mother, Grace Seales Hatch, was born in the community of Cadentown, near Lexington, Kentucky in 1904. His father was born in Louisville although his family's roots are in Belltown, Kentucky. His parents met at Lincoln Institute in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Hatch recalls his grandfather, who talked about relatives who were slaves. Three of Hatch's grandparents had lived in slavery. Hatch's father was an African Methodist preacher, so the family moved frequently. He recalls that they once lived in Corydon in Henderson County, Kentucky, which is the hometown of A. B. "Happy" Chandler. Hatch talks about Lyman Johnson, who was his history teacher when they moved back to Louisville. Hatch graduated from Rosenwall High School, in Lebanon, in 1946. He recalls his first lessons in segregation as a boy.
Hatch attended Kentucky State University, where he enjoyed the "cosmopolitan environment." He enrolled in the law school at Kentucky State in 1948, which was offered through the University of Kentucky law school. He was the only law student. He recalls that classes were later moved to the State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, where he met Thurgood Marshall, Robert Carter, James Nabritt, Jr., and others. These men recommended that he find a different way to learn law, including attending Howard University. Hatch transferred to UK's Lexington campus in the fall of 1949, but only stayed for one semester. He talks about segregation practices at UK stating that he could not attend moot court, which he considered the "most grievous" part of the entire experience. Once again, other black lawyers encouraged him to transfer to Howard.
When Hatch's family moved to rural Arkansas, he joined them, and taught school until he was drafted into the Korean War. He states that it was in the Army that he finally experienced an "unsegregated" environment. He discusses the challenges and obstacles black students still face in order to obtain a quality education and develop their talents. Hatch recalls he thought desegregation might be enough, but now realizes that it is a very complex problem. He notes that our "society is slipping, and unless it becomes more imaginative and creative, it will become a second-rate power."