Harvard Law Student Honors Justice William O. Douglas in Shared Hometown


Harvard Law Student Honors Justice William O. Douglas in Shared Hometown




Justice William O. Douglas, may have spent much of his life in Washington D.C., but it was Washington State that he called home. Douglas, who served on the Supreme Court from 1939-1975, grew up in a rural town in Central Washington, and as an adult spent several months a year at his cabin in the nearby Cascade Mountains. Throughout his life, Douglas attributed his work ethic and his deep appreciation of the environment to the lessons he learned as a youth working in Yakima’s apple orchards and hiking its desert hills.

Harvard Law School student, Jeremie Dufault, also grew up in Yakima, Washington, in a home a few blocks away from where Douglas and his widowed mother once lived. Even though Dufault graduated from the same high school where Douglas both studied and taught, he learned very little about America’s longest serving Supreme Court Justice until he encountered Douglas in his college history courses.

“It was a little embarrassing,” Dufault said. “I had grown up in the shadow of Justice William O. Douglas, one of the most influential public servants in American history, and yet I had to travel 3,000 miles to discover his inspirational life story and the contributions he made to American society.”

Dufault wanted to find a way to tell the story of Douglas’ rise from poverty in Yakima to his international impact as a scholar, high government official, and jurist to future generations of Yakima students.

“Most of these kids could use a role model,” Dufault said of the students at Davis High School, which at 50-60% attrition claims one of the highest dropout rates in the state. “Here is someone who went through what they are going through – living in relative poverty, working in agriculture to support their families, and attending a rural public school – who not only went on to graduate, but also went on to lead our country.”

Dufault formed the non-profit William O. Douglas Committee to raise local awareness, particularly among students, of Yakima’s most prominent citizen.

The first step in the campaign was to create a well-recognized symbol that would serve as a reference point for future educational initiatives and civic events. The Committee began planning the William O. Douglas Memorial and persuaded World War II Memorial sculptor, Simon Kogan, to design the project. As Kogan worked over the next several months, Dufault raised $60,000 for design and construction expenses and also secured permission from the Yakima School District to locate the memorial in the courtyard of Davis High School.

An unveiling ceremony on the first day of school kicked off phase two of the campaign. William O. Douglas’ widow, Cathy Douglas Stone, Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice, Gerry Alexander, and Dufault spoke to an enthralled student body, some of whom climbed up on courtyard balconies to get a better view of the Memorial.

“You’ll pass this monument everyday. It will be a reminder that there is no limit to what you can accomplish in life if you persevere.” – Chief Justice Gerry Alexander.

“I want you to know how much this statue would mean to Bill,” – Cathy Douglas Stone

“From here forward, Yakima students and citizens will claim Douglas’ legacy as their own and take full advantage of the opportunities that his story has to both educate and inspire the residents of our city.” – Jeremie Dufault

Since that day more students, teachers, and Yakima officials have joined Dufault’s cause. Davis High School teacher Doug Johnson is currently developing a curriculum tracing 20th century American history and literature through the prism of William O. Douglas’ life and encounters. Johnson’s students have written a series of letters to judges, law professors, including Harvard Law School’s David Rosenberg, and living Douglas acquaintances. Yakima City Attorney, Ray Paolella, introduced an effort to designate as a state park a 75-mile hiking trail dedicated to Douglas. The trail would begin at the Douglas Memorial, wind up through the hills outside Yakima up to Douglas’ cabin on Chinook Pass, and ultimately conclude at a Cascade Mountain summit in Mount Rainer National Park.

Dufault is thrilled with the results of the Douglas Committee’s efforts. “The attention the Douglas Memorial has generated exceeded our most optimistic expectations,” said Dufault. “Mrs. Stone, Justice Alexander, Judge Linde, and other former Douglas clerks significantly enhanced the visibility of our initial efforts. Their participation made both students and the media realize the importance of what we were trying to accomplish.”

Dufault graduates from HLS in May and will return to the Northwest where he will continue to assist with these and other related efforts.

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