The Man That Killed Jim Crow: 9 Charles Hamilton Houston Facts For You!

Charles Hamilton Houston

“This fight for equality of educational opportunity (was) not an isolated struggle. All our struggles must tie in together and support one another. . .We must remain on the alert and push the struggle farther with all our might.”

1. Charles Hamilton Houston will forever be remembered as “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow”. Between 1930 and 1954, Attorney Houston was involved in almost every civil rights case tried before the Supreme Court. His strategy involved using the inequality of the “Separate but Equal” doctrine from the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision as it pertained to public education in the United States. His masterful plan and strategy is what led to the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954 that ended segregation in the school system and basically paved the way for integration in the United States of America.

2. Attorney Charles Hamilton Houston was the first African-American to serve as an editor for the Harvard Law Review. He received his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1922 and his Doctor of Laws degree in 1923 from Harvard University where he graduated Cum Laude. Houston completed his undergraduate studies at Amherst College where he graduated as valedictorian in 1915. Houston completed his Post-Doctoral studies at the University of Madrid before returning to the United States and being admitted to the District of Columbia bar.

3. Prior to attending Harvard University, from 1917 to 1919, Charles Hamilton Houston served as an artillery officer in the United States Armed Forces during World War I. The racism that he experienced while serving as an officer in the military played a major part in fueling his determination to use law as an instrument of social change. Below is a quote from Charles Hamilton Houston:

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.

4. Charles Hamilton Houston was the first special counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Charles Hamilton Houston receives an award at a Washington Bar Association affair in 1949.

Charles Hamilton Houston receives an award at a Washington Bar Association affair in 1949.

5. Charles Hamilton Houston was posthumously awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1950. In 1958, Charles Hamilton Hall was dedicated at the Howard University Law School. Harvard University named all the following in his honor, the Charles Hamilton Houston Bar Association, a professorship and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. Scholar and author Molefi Kete Asante named Attorney Houston as one of the 100 Greatest African-Americans and the Washington Bar Association annually awards the Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit.

6. After becoming the Vice Dean of the Howard University School of Law, Charles Hamilton Houston set out to train attorneys who would become Civil Rights activists. During his tenure, the American Bar Association accredited Howard University, the Association of American Law Schools admitted Howard’s Law School and Houston nurtured and developed a full-time law school program with an intense civil rights curriculum. He would bring the brightest legal minds to his campus as speakers and program advisors. One of his main goals was to instill a sense of social mission in the law school students and create a group of world-class attorneys who would lead the fight against racial injustice and serve as an invaluable weapon to African-American people and organizations. While at the school, Charles Hamilton Houston trained over a quarter of the nation’s Black law students and mentored students such as Thurgood Marshall, Oliver Hill and Spottiswood Robinson. Houston eventually recruited some of his top law students to serve with him at the NAACP when he left Howard University in 1934.

Attorney Charles Hamilton Houston Sitting at Desk

Attorney Charles Hamilton Houston Sitting at His Desk

7. Charles Hamilton Houston helped found the National Bar Association in 1925. Created because the American Bar Association refused to allow African-Americans to become members, the National Bar Association is an organization for African-American attorneys and judges.

8. When asked to sum up Charles Hamilton Houston’s contribution to the fight against segregation and racism, Thurgood Marshall stated “We owe it all to Charlie.”

9. Charles Houston’s credo guides Howard University’s School of Law’s mission to this day:

A lawyer’s either a social engineer or he’s a parasite on society.” … A social engineer was a highly skilled, perceptive, sensitive lawyer who understood the Constitution of the United States and knew how to explore its uses in the solving of “problems of . . . local communities” and in “bettering conditions of the underprivileged citizens.

Below you will find a slide show featuring images of Attorney Charles Hamilton Houston, his family, his students and more!