- NAME: Charles H. Houston
- OCCUPATION: Educator, Civil Rights Activist, Lawyer
- BIRTH DATE: September 03, 1895
- DEATH DATE: April 22, 1950
- Did You Know?: Charles H. Houston was the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review.
- EDUCATION: Amherst College, Harvard Law School, University of Madrid
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Washington, D.C.
- PLACE OF DEATH: Washington, D.C.
- Full Name: Charles Hamilton Houston
- Nickname: The Man Who Killed Jim Crow
- AKA: Charles Houston
- AKA: Charles H. Houston
Best Known For
Attorney Charles H. Houston helped create the legal precedents that led to the rejection of "separate but equal" schools for African Americans.
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Born in 1895 in Washington, D.C., Charles H. Houston's service in the segregated army during World War I inspired him to study law. He became the Harvard Law Review's first African-American editor, the vice dean of Howard University's law school and headed the NAACP's legal fight against "separate but equal" schools, which led to the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Houston died on April 22, 1950.
"The hate and scorn showered on us Negro officers by our fellow Americans convinced me that there was no sense in my dying for a world ruled by them. I made up my mind that if I got through this war I would study law and use my time fighting for men who could not strike back."
"A lawyer's either a social engineer or a parasite on society."
Charles Hamilton Houston, generally known as Charles H. Houston, was born on September 3, 1895, in Washington, D.C. In 1915, he graduated from Amherst College, where he was one of six valedictorians and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He taught English at Howard University before joining the U.S. Army during World War I.
While serving in a segregated military unit, Houston saw that African-American service members were treated poorly, and could be convicted of crimes without any substantial evidence against them. Witnessing this unequal and unfair treatment made him decide to become a lawyer.
Houston attended Harvard Law School, where he became the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review. He graduated in 1922; the next year, he earned a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degree from Harvard, another first for an African American. After studying in Spain at the University of Madrid, Houston returned to Washington to practice at his father's law firm, which became Houston and Houston.
In Washington, Houston also joined the faculty of Howard University's law school. There, he taught his students to look at the law as not just a static set of rules and regulations, but as a force that could be used to promote the rights of African Americans. Houston became vice dean of the law school in 1929. He also worked to help the school gain accreditation, which happened in 1931.
In 1935, Houston left Howard to work full-time as an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. At the NAACP, he designed a strategy of accumulating legal precedents against "separate but equal" education for African Americans. In one of Houston's most important cases, Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938), the Supreme Court ruled that it was not constitutional to give an African-American student funds to attend an out-of-state law school instead of granting him admittance to the only law school in the state.
Houston was joined at the NAACP by one of his top students from Howard, Thurgood Marshall. Health issues forced Houston to resign from the NAACP in 1940, but Marshall remained at the organization, overseeing its legal fight for civil rights. In 1954, Marshall won the court case of Brown v. Board of Education, whose ruling stated that segregated schools were unconstitutional. Marshall gave Houston credit for setting the organization on the right course to win the landmark case, saying, "We wouldn't have been anyplace if Charlie hadn't laid the groundwork for it."
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