The man believed to be though not officially documented the oldest living person on earth, 117-year-old Andrew Hatch of Oakland, California, just departed the planet. Having lived partly in three centuries, Hatch was a member of a very tiny club, and his passing marks one of the last we'll know of people who were alive in both the 19th Century and our contemporary time. The official oldest living person is now Brooklyn resident Susannah Mushatt Jones, who is 116 and will turn 117 in July. She was born in 1899, and moved to New York during the Roaring Twenties.
As the Contra Costa Times reports, Hatch only lacked the official designation, though he'd been featured in multiple publications over the last decade as one of the world's "supercentenarians."
At the time of his passing, Hatch, born in Louisiana Oct. 7, 1898, was likely the oldest man in the country, if not the world. And though he had decades' worth of driver's licenses and work-permit cards displaying his age, he didn't have a birth certificate. Birth records for African-Americans in the South were scarce in the late 19th century, so he was never officially listed as "oldest man" by the Gerontology Research Group, which tracks longevity.
Hatch lived through nearly every stage of the civil rights struggles of African Americans, and in recent years could always be seen wearing an Obama ballcap he still rolled through the streets of downtown Oakland daily on his scooter up to the age of 115.
In 1971, at the age of 73, he survived an apartment fire in West Oakland after which he lost a couple of fingers after hanging from a burning ledge. He had lived in Oakland since 1933, before which he did stints in Louisiana, Texas, and then Africa, Europe, and Canada as a merchant marine. In Texas, he recounted being jailed in his early 20's for the "reckless eyeballing" of a pretty white woman. Using his lock-picking skills, he escaped, hopped a boxcar to Mexico and spent a couple of years down there too.
As NBC Bay Area points out, he died on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf met him last year, just after his 117th birthday and found him "amazingly lucid," and President Obama had been sending him birthday letters every year since 2008.