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Houston, Charles Hamilton 1895–1950

Charles Hamilton Houston 18951950

Lawyer, educator, civil rights activist

At a Glance

Excelled in School, Became Activist-Dean

Pursued Civil Rights as a Teacher and Lawyer

Argued Against Discrimination Before Supreme Court

Sources

Charles Hamilton Houston, a groundbreaking lawyer and educator, is credited with having recognized in the 1930s that the fledgling civil rights movement would achieve its greatest and most lasting successes in the courtroom. Endowed with a legal mind celebrated for its precision, Houston believed that the U.S. Congress and state legislaturesmired in the politics of race and beholden to constituencies that might be reluctant to disavow institutional discrimination against blackswere more likely to frustrate the advances sought by civil rights leaders. In Houstons eyes, the courts would be more responsive to sound, analytical, legal arguments demonstrating the nature and consequences of state-sanctioned segregation and of Jim Crow laws, which enforced discrimination against blacks after the Civil War.

Whether plotting strategy for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, or retooling a second-rate law school into a first class institution that churned out generations of brilliant black lawyers, Houston helped focus politicians and courts in the United States on the patently unconstitutional foundation of racial inequality. Although he labored quietly and without self-promotion, his famous students and more flamboyant colleagues were always quick to point out that he effectively laid the groundwork for many of the centurys milestone court decisions that progressively undid the knot of legal discrimination in the United States.

Unlike the more prominent civil rights leaders of the twentieth century, Charles Hamilton Houston did not experience abject poverty or suffer the injurious tentacles of blatant discrimination as a child. He was born on September 3,1895, in Washington, D.C., the only child of William, a lawyer, educator, and future assistant U.S. attorney general, and Mary, a public school teacher who abandoned her career for hairdressing and sewing in order to provide additional money for the family. The Houstons revered education, surrounding young Charles with books and encouraging his prodigious intellect. Legend had it that Houstons grandfather, a Kentucky slave, constantly provoked the ire of his illiterate master by reading books that had been smuggled onto the plantation. Largely insulated from the ways in which society denigrated blacksincluding inadequate housing, lower wages for doing the same work as whites, and racial violenceCharles Houston attended what was arguably the best all-black high school

At a Glance

Born September 3,1895, in Washington, DC; died of a heart attack, April 22,1950; son of William (a lawyer) and Mary (a teacher, hairdresser, and seamstress) Hamilton; married Margaret Gladys Moran, August 23, 1924 (divorced, 1937); married Henrietta Williams, September 14, 1937; children: Charles, Jr. Education: Amherst College, A.B., 1915; Harvard University, LL.B., 1922, S.J.D., 1923; attended University of Madrid, Spain, 1923-24.

Admitted to the Bar of Washington, DC, 1924; worked as an attorney with father, William Houston, Houston & Houston, 1924-39; vice-dean, Howard University School of Law, Washington, Dc, 1929-35; special counsel, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1935-40; partner, Houston, Houston, Hastie & Waddy, 1939-50; NAACP National Legal Committee, member, 1940-48, chairman, 1948-50; member of Washington, DC Board of Education, 1933-35, American Council on Race Relations, 1944-50, and Fair Employment Practices Committee, 1944-45. Military service: American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-19.

Member: National Bar Association, National Lawyers Guild, Phi Beta Kappa.

Selected awards: Spingarn Medal, NAACP, 1950.

in the country, from which he graduated as class valedictorian in 1911.

Excelled in School, Became Activist-Dean

Houston enrolled at Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was one of six valedictorians in 1915. Determined to be a lawyer like his father, Houston taught English for a couple of years back in Washington in order to save enough money to attend Harvard Law School. With an ever-sharpening analytical eye, Houston saw his choice of career validated when, while teaching, he came to see that blacks had not advanced meaningfully in the past 20 years and were becoming increasingly victimized by segregation in the public and private sectors.

After serving in the army during World War I, Houston entered Harvard Law School, where his intellectual zeal and worldly curiosity found a home. Author Richard Kluger wrote in his 1976 book Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black Americas Struggle for Equality, From the start, it was evident that [Houston] had a mind ideally contoured for a career at law. He relished the kind of abstract thinking needed to shape the building blocks of the law. He had a clarity of thought and grace of phraseology, a retentive brain, a doggedness for research, and a drive within him that few of his colleagues could match or understand.

After his first year, Houston was elected to the Harvard Law Review, a prestigious scholastic honor, and discovered a legal mentor in the eminent professor and future Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter. Graduating with honors, Houston decided to obtain his doctorate degree in juridical science under Frankfurter, who taught his student not only the finer points of constitutional law but also the need to incorporate the lessons of history, economics, and sociology into a comprehensive, legalistic world view. These teachings, in combination with his own growing awareness of the second-class citizenship forced on blacks, forged in Houston the conviction of a social activist and the strategic thinking of a lawyer who understood the power of law to effect social change.

Houston received his doctorate in 1923 and then obtained a one-year fellowship at the University of Madrid in Spain. He went on to practice law with his father, an experience that exposed him to the details of case preparation and provided courtroom opportunities for him to exercise his blossoming forensic talents. In 1929 Houston was appointed vice-dean at the Howard University School of Law, a black institution that, despite glaring weaknesses, had produced nearly all the distinguished black lawyers in the country for two generations after the Civil War. Recognizing the need for blacks to thoroughly understand constitutional law with an eye toward dismantling the legal basis of segregation, and for black students to have higher education institutions on a par with those available only to whites, Houston set about reconstituting the law school. He shut down the night school, from which his father had graduated, toughened admissions standards, improved the library and curriculum, and purged from the faculty those he believed were not tapping the intellectual potential of the next generations black lawyers and leaders.

By 1935, although there was still only one black lawyer for every 10,000 blacks in the country, Houston was optimistic. August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, writing in the Journal of American History in 1976, quoted Houston as saying at an NAACP convention, The most hopeful sign about our legal defense is the ever-increasing number of young Negro lawyers, competent, conscientious, and courageous, who are anxious to pit themselves (without fee) against the forces of reaction and injustice.... The time is soon coming when the Negro will be able to rely on his own lawyers to give him every legal protection in every court.

Pursued Civil Rights as a Teacher and Lawyer

It was not only as an administrator that Houston advanced his cause. As a professor, he was empowered to directly shape the future of black law. His principal goal was to elucidate for his studentsthe future fighters for racial justicethe stark differences between the laws governing whites in American society and those governing blacks. In his book Black Profiles, George R. Metcalf wrote that Houston called it making social engineers. He had become dean in 1929 with but one purpose: to make Howard, which was then second rate, a West Point of Negro leadership so that Negroes could gain equality by fighting segregation in the courts.

Of the students who braved Houstons intense mock court proceedings and military-style cerebral drillings, none would more successfully carry the torch that Houston had lit than Thurgood Marshall, who would ultimately be appointed to the Supreme Court. First off, you thought he was a mean so-and-so, Marshall was quoted as saying in Simple Justice. He used to tell us that doctors could bury their mistakes but lawyers couldnt. And hed drive home to us that we would be competing not only with white lawyers but really well-trained white lawyers, so there just wasnt any point crying in our beer about being Negroes.... He made it clear to all of us that when we were done, we were expected to go out and do something with our lives.

In the mid-1930s Houston was retained by the NAACP, then the dominant civil rights organ of the century, to chip away at segregation by leading a legal action campaign against racially biased funding of public education and discrimination in public transportation. One of his first cases, in which his legal artfulness was fully displayed, involved a black man from Maryland who wished to attend the University of Maryland Law School, the same school that years earlier had denied Thurgood Marshall admission on the grounds that he was black. Houston operated on the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision, which validated separate but equal public education. University officials had told Donald Murray that because he was black he would not be admitted, but that he was qualified to attend Princess Anne Academy, a lackluster, all-black institution that was an extension of the university. Houston and Marshall set out to prove that Princess Anne Academy, without a law school or any other graduate programs, did not provide an education on a par with the University of Maryland, and therefore, the state had violated Plessy.

Houston and Marshall were victorious, not only in getting Murray into the University, but in showing that states that wanted to sustain separate but equal education had to face the onerous and expensive task of making black institutions qualitatively equal to white institutions. The courts, it became clear, were going to carefully scrutinize the allegedly equal education in states hiding behind Plessy. Segregation took on an impractical quality to those who tried to defend it on moral grounds. In subsequent pioneering cases, Houston would further lead the attack on segregated education by using the testimony of psychologists and social scientists who claimed that black children suffered enormous and lasting mental anguish as a result of segregation in public schools and the societal ostracism of blacks.

Argued Against Discrimination Before Supreme Court

Houstons first case before the U.S. Supreme Court involved a black man named Jess Hollins who had been convicted of rape in Oklahoma by an all-white jury and sentenced to death. Brandishing arguments he had used before in lower courts, Houston claimed that because blacks historically had been denied jury placements in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, only on the basis of their race, black defendants could maintain that they had been denied due process under the law. The Supreme Court, citing one of its recent decisions, concurred. Houston became the first black to successfully represent the NAACP before the highest court in the land.

During his tenure at the NAACP, Houston was praised not only for his legalistic virtuosity but for his foresight in picking cases that would collectively help erode segregation in the country. In his second major Supreme Court victory, he succeeded in guaranteeing that an all-white firemen labor union fairly represent in collective bargaining black firemen excluded from the union. Houston also persuaded the court that racially restricted covenants on real estatesuch as deeds prohibiting blacks from occupying a housewere unconstitutional. In 1945 he argued and won a case involving a black woman from Baltimore who, on the basis of her skin color, had been denied entry into a training class operated by a public library and funded by tax-payer dollars.

Always trying to expand the scope and appeal of the NAACP, Houston suggested the establishment of satellite offices on college campuses and advised the associations officials to attend conferences of religious leaders as a way of better accessing black communities. As a native Washingtonian with many political contacts, he was also expected to comment on the racial consequences of legislation that was being considered by Congress, where he frequently testified before legislative committees. In 1944 Houston was appointed to the Fair Employment Practices Committee, created to enforce integration in private industries, but quit 20 months later, decrying what he viewed as a transparent commitment to racial equality on the part of the administration of President Harry S Truman.

Houston died in 1950, four years before his star pupil, Marshall, succeeded in arguing before the Supreme Court that the separate but equal defense of segregated education was unconstitutional. The precedent set in Brown v. Board of Education was the culmination of decades of legal challenges, many of which had been masterminded and implemented by Houston. Although his name never would be as widely known as others in the civil rights community, many lawyers and activists who worked with him, including Marshall, have never strayed from their belief that Charles Hamilton Houston was one of the early, unsung heroes of the assault on segregation. Richard Kluger quoted Howard University Professor Charles Thompson in Simple Justice as saying, [Houston] got less honor and remuneration than almost anyone else involved in this fight. He was a philanthropist without money.

Sources

Books

Auerbach, Jerold, Unequal Justice, Oxford University Press, 1976.

Bardolph, Richard, The Negro Vanguard, Vintage Books, 1959.

Franklin, John Hope, and August Meier, editors, Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, University of Illinois Press, 1982.

Kluger, Richard, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black Americas Struggle for Equality, Knopf, 1976.

Metcalf, George R., Black Profiles, McGraw-Hill, 1970.

Segal, Geraldine, In Any Fight Some Fall, Mercury Press, 1975.

Periodicals

Journal of American History, March 1976.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from papers housed at Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Isaac Rosen

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Charles Hamilton Houston

Charles Hamilton Houston

While with the NAACP, Houston (1895-1950) teamed with the American Fund for Public Service to direct a program of legal action and education aimed at the elimination of segregation.

Charles Hamilton Houston, a groundbreaking lawyer and educator, is credited with having recognized in the 1930s that the incipient black civil rights movement would achieve its greatest and most lasting successes in the courtroom. Endowed with a legal mind celebrated for its precision, Houston believed that the U.S. Congress and state legislatures, mired in the politics of race and beholden to constituencies that might be reluctant to disavow institutional discrimination against blacks, were more likely to frustrate the advances sought by civil rights leaders. In Houston's eyes, the courts, as ostensibly apolitical forums, would be more responsive to sound, analytical, legal arguments elucidating the nature and consequences of Jim Crow laws—which enforced discrimination against blacks after the Civil War—and state-sanctioned segregation.

Whether plotting strategy for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, or retooling a second-rate law school into a first class institution that churned out generations of brilliant black lawyers, Houston helped focus politicians and courts in the United States on the patently unconstitutional foundation of racial inequality. Although he labored quietly and without self-promotion, his famous students and more flamboyant colleagues were always quick to point out that he effectively laid the groundwork for many of the century's milestone court decisions that progressively undid the knot of legal discrimination in the United States.

Unlike the more prominent civil rights leaders of the 20th century, Charles Hamilton Houston did not experience abject poverty or suffer the injurious tentacles of blatant discrimination as a child. He was born on September 3, 1895, in Washington, D.C., the only child of William, a lawyer, educator, and future assistant U.S. attorney general, and Mary, a public school teacher who abandoned her career for hairdressing and sewing in order to provide additional money for the family. The Houstons revered education, surrounding young Charles with books and encouraging his prodigious intellect. Legend had it that Houston's grandfather, a Kentucky slave, constantly provoked the ire of his illiterate master by reading books that had been smuggled onto the plantation. Largely insulated from the ways in which society denigrated blacks— including inadequate housing, lower wages for doing the same work as whites, and racial violence—Charles Houston attended what was arguably the best all-black high school in the country, from which he graduated as class valedictorian in 1911.

Excelled in School, Became Activist-Dean

Houston enrolled at Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was one of six valedictorians in 1915. Determined to be a lawyer like his father, Houston taught English for a couple of years back in Washington in order to save enough money to attend Harvard Law School. With an ever-sharpening analytical eye, Houston saw his choice of career validated when, while teaching, he came to see that blacks had not advanced meaningfully in the past 20 years and were becoming increasingly victimized by segregation in the public and private sectors.

After serving in the army during World War I, Houston entered Harvard Law School, where his intellectual zeal and worldly curiosity found a home. Author Richard Kluger wrote in his 1976 book Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality, "From the start, it was evident that [Houston] had a mind ideally contoured for a career at law. He relished the kind of abstract thinking needed to shape the building blocks of the law. He had a clarity of thought and grace of phraseology, a retentive brain, a doggedness for research, and a drive within him that few of his colleagues could match or understand."

After his first year, Houston was elected to the Harvard Law Review, a prestigious scholastic honor, and discovered a legal mentor in the eminent professor and future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. Graduating with honors, Houston decided to obtain his doctorate degree in juridical science under Frankfurter, who taught his student not only the finer points of constitutional law but also the need to incorporate the lessons of history, economics, and sociology into a comprehensive, legalistic world view. These teachings, in combination with his own growing awareness of the second-class citizenship forced on blacks, forged in Houston the conviction of a social activist and the strategic thinking of a lawyer who understood the power of law to effect social change.

Returning from a one-year fellowship at the University of Madrid in Spain, Houston practiced law with his father, an experience that exposed him to the minutiae of case preparation and provided courtroom opportunities for him to exercise his blossoming forensic talents. In 1929 Houston was appointed vice-dean at the Howard University School of Law, a black institution that, despite glaring weaknesses, had produced nearly all the distinguished black lawyers in the country for two generations after the Civil War. Recognizing the need for blacks to thoroughly understand constitutional law with an eye toward dismantling the legal basis of segregation, and for black students to have higher education institutions on a par with those available only to whites, Houston set about reconstituting the law school. He shut down the night school, from which his father had graduated, toughened admissions standards, improved the library and curriculum, and purged from the faculty those he believed were not tapping the intellectual potential of the next generation's black lawyers and leaders.

By 1935, although there was still only one black lawyer for every 10, 000 blacks in the country, Houston was optimistic. August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, writing in the Journal of American History in 1976, quoted Houston as saying at an NAACP convention, "The most hopeful sign about our legal defense is the ever-increasing number of young Negro lawyers, competent, conscientious, and courageous, who are anxious to pit themselves (without fee) against the forces of reaction and injustice. … The time is soon coming when the Negro will be able to rely on his own lawyers to give him every legal protection in every court."

Pursued Civil Rights as a Teacher and

Lawyer

It was not only as an administrator that Houston advanced his cause. As a professor, he was empowered to directly shape the future of black law. His principal goal was to elucidate for his students—the future fighters for racial justice—the stark differences between the laws governing whites in American society and those governing blacks. In his book Black Profiles, George R. Metcalf wrote that Houston "called it making 'social engineers.' He had become dean in 1929 with but one purpose: to make Howard, which was then second rate, a 'West Point of Negro leadership' so that Negroes could gain equality by fighting segregation in the courts."

Of the students who braved Houston's intense mock court proceedings and military-style cerebral drillings, none would more successfully carry the torch that Houston had lit than Thurgood Marshall, who would ultimately be appointed to the Supreme Court. "First off, you thought he was a mean so-and-so, " Marshall was quoted as saying in Simple Justice. "He used to tell us that doctors could bury their mistakes but lawyers couldn't. And he'd drive home to us that we would be competing not only with white lawyers but really well-trained white lawyers, so there just wasn't any point crying in our beer about being Negroes. … He made it clear to all of us that when we were done, we were expected to go out and do something with our lives."

In 1934 Houston was retained by the NAACP, then the dominant civil rights organ of the century, to chip away at segregation by leading a legal action campaign against racially biased funding of public education and discrimination in public transportation. One of his first cases, in which his legal artfulness was fully displayed, involved a black man from Maryland who wished to attend the University of Maryland Law School, the same school that years earlier had denied Thurgood Marshall admission on the grounds that he was black. Houston operated on the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision, which validated separate but equal public education. University officials had told Donald Murray that because he was black he would not be admitted, but that he was qualified to attend Princess Anne Academy, a lackluster, all-black institution that was an extension of the university. Houston and Marshall set out to prove that Princess Anne Academy, without a law school or any other graduate programs, did not provide an education on a par with the University of Maryland, and therefore, the state had violated Plessy.

Houston and Marshall were victorious, not only in getting Murray into the University, but in showing that states that wanted to sustain separate but equal education had to face the onerous and expensive task of making black institutions qualitatively equal to white institutions. The courts, it became clear, were going to carefully scrutinize the allegedly equal education in states hiding behind Plessy. Segregation took on an impractical quality to those who tried to defend it on moral grounds. In subsequent pioneering cases, Houston would further lead the attack on segregated education by using the testimony of psychologists and social scientists who claimed that black children suffered enormous and lasting mental anguish as a result of segregation in public schools and the societal ostracism of blacks.

Argued Against Discrimination Before

Supreme Court

Houston's first case before the U.S. Supreme Court involved a black man named Jess Hollins who had been convicted of rape in Oklahoma by an all-white jury and sentenced to death. Brandishing arguments he had used before in lower courts, Houston claimed that because blacks historically had been denied jury placements in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, only on the basis of their race, black defendants could maintain that they had been denied due process under the law. The Supreme Court, citing one of its recent decisions, concurred. Houston became the first black to successfully represent the NAACP before the highest court in the land.

During his tenure at the NAACP, Houston was praised not only for his legalistic virtuosity but for his prescience in picking cases that would collectively help erode segregation in the country. In his second major Supreme Court victory, he succeeded in guaranteeing that an all-white firemen labor union fairly represent in collective bargaining black firemen excluded from the union. Houston also persuaded the court that racially restricted covenants on real estate—such as deeds prohibiting blacks from occupying a house—were unconstitutional. In 1945 he argued and won a case involving a black woman from Baltimore who, on the basis of her skin color, had been denied entry into a training class operated by a public library and funded by tax-payer dollars.

Always trying to expand the scope and appeal of the NAACP, Houston suggested the establishment of satellite offices on college campuses and advised the association's officials to attend conferences of religious leaders as a way of better accessing black communities. As a native Washingtonian with many political contacts, he was also expected to comment on the racial consequences of legislation that was being considered by Congress, where he frequently testified before legislative committees. In 1944 Houston was appointed to the Fair Employment Practices Committee, created to enforce integration in private industries, but quit 20 months later, decrying what he viewed as a transparent commitment to racial equality on the part of the administration of President Harry S. Truman.

Houston died in 1950, four years before his star pupil, Marshall, succeeded in arguing before the Supreme Court that the separate but equal defense of segregated education was unconstitutional. The precedent set in Brown v. Board of Education was the culmination of decades of legal challenges, many of which had been masterminded and implemented by Houston. Although his name never would be as widely known as others in the civil rights community, many lawyers and activists who worked with him, including Marshall, have never strayed from their belief that Charles Hamilton Houston was one of the early, unsung heroes of the assault on segregation. Richard Kluger quoted Howard University Professor Charles Thompson in Simple Justice as saying, "[Houston] got less honor and remuneration than almost anyone else involved in this fight. He was a philanthropist without money."

Further Reading

Auerbach, Jerold, Unequal Justice, Oxford University Press, 1976.

Bardolph, Richard, The Negro Vanguard, Vintage Books, 1959.

Franklin, John Hope, and August Meier, editors, Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, University of Illinois Press, 1982.

Kluger, Richard, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality, Knopf, 1976.

Metcalf, George R., Black Profiles, McGraw-Hill, 1970.

Segal, Geraldine, In Any Fight Some Fall, Mercury Press, 1975.

Journal of American History, March 1976.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from papers housed at Howard University, Washington, D.C. □

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Houston, Charles Hamilton

HOUSTON, CHARLES HAMILTON

Charles Hamilton Houston was a law professor and civil rights lawyer who argued many landmark cases on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp).

Houston was born September 3, 1895, in Washington, D.C. His father, William Houston, was trained as a lawyer and worked for a while as a records clerk to supplement the family's income; his mother, Mary Ethel Houston, worked as a hairdresser. Houston's father eventually began practicing law full-time and later became a law professor at Howard University, a predominantly black institution located in Washington, D.C. An only child, Houston received his primary and secondary education in segregated Washington, D.C., schools. After graduating from high school, he received a full scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh. At the urging of his parents, he instead entered Amherst College, where he was the only black student enrolled. An outstanding student, he was elected Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated magna cum laude in 1915.

After Amherst, Houston taught English composition and literature at Howard for two years. In 1917, shortly after the United States entered world war i, Houston left teaching for military service. He enrolled in an officer candidate school for blacks, established at Des Moines. After four months of training, Houston became a first lieutenant in the infantry and was assigned to duty at Camp Meade, Maryland. He later entered field artillery school, despite the widely held belief that blacks could not serve effectively as field artillery officers.

Houston served in France until 1919, then returned to the United States to enroll at Harvard Law School. He was one of the few black students admitted at that time. His outstanding academic record earned him a place on the editorial board of the Harvard Law Review, making him the first black student to be so honored. In 1922, he received a bachelor of laws degree cum laude. He remained at Harvard for an additional year of graduate study, and earned a doctor of juridical science degree in 1923. He then won a fellowship to study for a year at the University of Madrid, where he earned a doctor of civil law degree.

In 1924, his studies completed, Houston was admitted to the bar of the District of Columbia and became his father's partner in the law firm of Houston and Houston. He quickly developed a successful practice, specializing in trusts and estates, probate, and landlord-tenant matters. He also taught law part-time at Howard University. In 1929, he left law practice to become an associate professor and vice dean of the School of Law at Howard. In 1932, he became dean, a post he held until 1935.

While at Howard, Houston worked to upgrade the law school's facilities, reputation, and academic standards and was instrumental in securing full accreditation for the school. He also found time to participate in important civil rights cases. He helped write the brief for Nixon v. Condon, 286 U.S. 73, 52 S. Ct. 484, 76 L. Ed. 984 (1932), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that a "whites-only" primary election was unconstitutional. He also helped argue Norris v. Alabama, 294 U.S. 587, 55 S. Ct. 579, 79 L. Ed. 1074 (1935), where the Court overturned the convictions of nine black men charged with rape, because Alabama's systematic exclusion of blacks from juries violated the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution.

In 1935, Houston left Washington, D.C., to become the first special counsel for the NAACP, headquartered in New York City. As special counsel, Houston initiated legal challenges in support of civil rights and argued landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337, 59 S. Ct. 232, 83 L. Ed. 208 (1938). In Gaines, the Supreme Court ruled that a state could not exclude a black applicant from a state-supported all-white law school. Houston also argued Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 68 S. Ct. 836, 92 L. Ed. 1161 (1948). In the Shelley decision, the Court held that a clause in a real estate contract prohibiting the sale of property to nonwhites could not be enforced by state courts. Houston was widely praised for the thorough and sometimes painstaking preparation of his legal briefs and his impassioned oral arguments before the Court.

In 1940, Houston left the NAACP to return to private practice in Washington, D.C., though he remained a member of the NAACP's national legal committee. He was succeeded as special counsel by thurgood marshall, a colleague at the NAACP whom he had taught at Howard and who later became the first African American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Houston remained active in civil rights work, winning before the U.S. Supreme Court two cases that struck down racially discriminatory practices by the railroads: Steele v. Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company, 323 U.S. 192, 65 S. Ct. 226, 89 L. Ed. 173 (1944), and Tunstall v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, 323 U.S. 210, 65 S. Ct. 235, 89 L. Ed. 187 (1944).

In 1944, Houston was appointed by President franklin d. roosevelt to the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). He resigned the following year after a dispute with President harry s. truman over alleged discriminatory hiring practices on the part of the Capital Transit Company, of Washington, D.C. Capital Transit Company was the transportation system in Washington, D.C. Houston alleged that it engaged in discriminatory policies by not hiring black workers or promoting current black workers to positions as bus operators or streetcar conductors. The FEPC wanted to issue a directive ending discrimination. Truman did not respond to Houston's efforts to have the directive issued, so Houston resigned from the FEPC. Truman finally did respond, maintaining that, because Capital Transit had earlier been seized under the War Labor Dispute Act because of a labor dispute, enforcement of the order ending discrimination should be postponed.

"Whether elected or appointed, public officials serve those who put and keep them in office. We cannot depend upon them to fight our battles."
—Charles Hamilton Houston

After battling heart disease for several years, Houston died in Washington, D.C., on April 22, 1950, at the age of fifty-four.

further readings

Elliott, Stephen P., ed. 1986. A Reference Guide to the United States Supreme Court. New York: Facts on File.

Fairfax, Roger A., Jr. 1998. "Wielding the Double-Edged Sword: Charles Hamilton Houston and Judicial Activism in the Age of Legal Realism." Harvard Blackletter Law Journal 14 (spring): 17–44.

Jones, Nathaniel R. 2001. "The Sisyphean Impact on Houstonian Jurisprudence." University of Cincinnati Law Review 69 (winter): 435–51.

McNeil, Genna Rae. 1983. Groundwork: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Struggle for Civil Rights. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

Smith, J. Clay, Jr, and E. Desmond Hogan. 1998. "Remembered Hero, Forgotten Contribution: Charles Hamilton Houston, Legal Realism, and Labor Law." Harvard Blackletter Law Journal 14 (spring): 1–16.

Witt, Elder, ed. 1990. Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. 2d ed. Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.

cross-references

Powell v. Alabama.

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Houston, Charles Hamilton

Houston, Charles Hamilton 1895-1950

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Charles Hamilton Houston was born in 1895, one year before the U.S. Supreme Courts decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. In Plessy, the Court upheld laws requiring racially segregated public facilities, known as Jim Crow laws, ruling that separate but equal facilities for blacks and whites did not violate the U.S. Constitution. Charles Houston dedicated his life to destroying Jim Crow and ending racial segregation by law in the United States.

Houston believed that the law could be used to bring about social change and that black lawyers should be trained as social engineers. He attended law school at Harvard University, where he was the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. In 1929 Houston was appointed head of the law school at Howard University, a historically black institution. Houston raised admissions standards, improved the faculty, strengthened the curriculum, and achieved accreditation for the school. His mission was to train a cadre of black lawyers that would successfully challenge government-sanctioned discrimination. One of Houstons students, Thurgood Marshall (19081993), went on to argue Brown v. Board of Education (1954) before the U.S. Supreme Court and later to serve as the Courts first black justice.

In 1935 Houston took a leave of absence from the law school to serve as special counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Within a few months of joining the NAACP, Houston initiated a legal campaign to end racial discrimination in public education. The first step in Houstons strategy was to attack Plessy s separate but equal doctrine as it applied to graduate and professional schools. Most states offered legal education only to white students, thus failing to meet the separate requirement, and Houston brought test cases to challenge these policies. In Murray v. Maryland (1936) and Missouri ex. rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938), the Maryland Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must either admit black students to their established institutions or provide blacks with equal facilities for graduate and professional training.

Houston resigned as NAACP special counsel in 1938, but he remained active in civil rights litigation. He turned his attention to racial discrimination in labor and housing. In the Steele and Tunstall cases of 1944, Houston successfully challenged preferential hiring in the railroad industry, and in Hurd v. Hodge (1948), he took on restrictive covenants among homeowners and prevailed.

Houston also continued to advise Thurgood Marshall, who had taken over the education litigation. The next step was to challenge the separate graduate and professional schools created in the wake of Murray and Gaines and to show that equality was impossible, or at least too expensive, to achieve. In Sweatt v. Painter (1950) and McLaurin v. Oklahoma (1950), the NAACP argued that the education offered to black law and graduate students was substantially inferior to that available to white students, and the Supreme Court unanimously agreed.

Houston died of heart failure in 1950 and did not live to see the culmination of his strategy to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson. In Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and its companion cases, the Supreme Court was unanimous in striking down segregation in primary and secondary education, declaring that in the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal has no place.

SEE ALSO Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 ; Marshall, Thurgood; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Klebanow, Diana, and Franklin L. Jonas. 2003. Peoples Lawyers: Crusaders for Justice in American History. Armonk, NY: Sharpe.

McNeil, Genna Rae. 1983. Groundwork: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Struggle for Civil Rights. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Malia Reddick

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