MERCED, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Professor Charles James Ogletree Jr., UC Merced champion and Harvard legal scholar, has passed away at 70 years old, says UC Merced officials Friday.

According to officials and professors, Charles Ogletree, Jr. was a civil rights icon and native of Merced. He was also a champion of The University of California, Merced, and the first recipient of the university’s Alice and Clifford Spendlove Prize in Socal Justice, Diplomacy, and Tolerance.

Professor Ogletree, Jr. delivered the academic keynote address for the UC Merced campus convocation and opening ceremony on Sept. 5, 2005. His speech is one of the founding documents of the university, officials say.

Photo Courtesy: UC Merced

“As I think about the UC Merced campus,” he said, “I too envision a unique place, in California, in America, and indeed, in the world. I envision that, when your children and grandchildren have a choice of universities to attend, whether it is Harvard or Howard, Stanford or the University of Texas, Princeton or even UCLA or Berkeley, they will say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks. I’m setting higher goals, and the institution I choose to attend is UC Merced!’”

The Merced Courthouse on N. Street was renamed the Charles James Ogletree Courthouse on February 17th of this year during a ceremony.

Richard Ogletree, his brother, said while his brother was often in the company of global leaders and dignitaries like Nelson Mandela and former U.S. president Bill Clinton, he always took time to give back to youth and the community in Merced, with a special emphasis on those areas of Merced that are marginalized or underrepresented in the public sphere.

“Professor Ogletree has been an incredible force of nature, a dynamic public servant who has advanced the law for social justice, civil rights, civil liberties, and tolerance in our society like none other,” said U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who delivered remarks remotely at the courthouse renaming. “Charles Ogletree has really brought to life, through his teaching, his advocacy, through his understanding, through his analysis, and insight with respect to our society, that America is in a continuing march toward a more perfect union, and he has continued to advance the law in that direction, lifting up and bringing to life values such as liberty and justice for all, equal protection under the law, free and fair elections, and the notion of our country as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Jeffries also said he has inspired countless law students, including President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, and numerous members of the House Democratic Caucus.