Charles H. Houston was born in Washington, D.C., on September 3, 1895. After high school, Charles went on to attend Amherst College in 1911. There he was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. He was picked to be valedictorian for graduation in 1915. Charles took a job at Howard University as a teacher which took him back to his hometown. After 2 years of teaching Charles joined the racially segregated U.S Army and became a 1st Lieutenant in Fort Meade, Maryland.
In 1919, Charles attended Harvard Law School where he earned a Bachelor of Law and Doctor of Law. He also became the 1st African American to hold the title as editor of the Harvard Law Review. He graduated cum laude and was also a member of the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter established for African-Americans.
In 1924, Charles was admitted to District of Columbia bar, and he joined forces with his father practicing law. During the 1930s Charles was the first to serves as the 1st special counsel to the NAACP. He serves on a lot of the civil rights cases during that time and continuing forward.
Charles felt that unequal educations was the “Achilles heel of the Jim Crow”. He believed that states failure to try and live up to the 1896 rule of the “separate but equal”. He was seeking to overturn the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling because it gave birth to that phrase.
As pointed out in the movie “The Great Debaters” during and off campus debate, that the ideal of “separate by equal” was not being lived up to. States were spending way more for the education of white students than black students. Black schools were using leftover supplies and built with cheaper materials. Houston designed a strategy for attacking the segregation in law schools. His goal was to have to either integrate schools or have black law schools that were parallel to white law schools.
Charles arguments were used in Brown v. The Board of Education which broke down the barriers that were once held. Sadly, Charles was not able to see this come to light for the Brown v. Board of Education case do to his untimely death on 1950. The Brown v. Board of Education was in 1954. Charles was known as Thurgood Marshall’s mentor.
Charles died on April 22, 1950, at the age of 54 due to a heart attack. He was posthumously awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1950. The main building in Howard University Law was dedicated as Charles Hamilton Houston Hall in 1958. The Charles Houston Bar Association and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School (opened in 2005) were named after him.
The Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit is awarded by the Washington Bar Association yearly for an individual who has advanced the case of Houstonian jurisprudence.
Charles Hamilton Houston will always be known as “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow”.
3 thoughts on “Faces of Our History: Charles Hamilton Houston”
Mr Houston was a giant on the quest for equality!
Indeed he was!! I wonder if he were still alive once the Brown v Board of Edcucation was granted. What he would’ve done next.
That is a GREAT question!!