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Black History Tribute II

‘The man who killed Jim Crow’

By Yrrasha Taylor
On February 20, 2020

Charles Hamilton Houston, as special counsel for the NAACP, argued civil rights cases before the Supreme Court. He was a mentor to Thurgood Marshall.naacp.org

Black History Month, celebrated Feb. 1-29 this year, is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans. It is a time for African Americans and others to celebrate and recognize what history-making milestones these black people have made in the U.S. 

Someone worthy to be celebrated and recognized is Charles Hamilton Houston, who was born Sept. 3, 1895, in Washington, D.C. 

Houston was a prominent African American lawyer, dean of Howard University Law School and NAACP first special counsel. 

He graduated from Amherst College as one of six valedictorians in 1915. He earned an LL.B. in 1922 and a doctorate of Judicial Science in 1923, becoming one of the few lawyers of his time to earn a doctorate. 

As vice dean of Howard University Law School, he led the school’s successful efforts and shaped the school into a significant institution. 

Houston made significant contributions in the battle against racial discrimination. After joining the NAACP in 1934, he served as special counsel from 1935-1938. Houston argued important civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

In 1939 in the Gains v. Canada case, he argued that it was unconstitutional for Missouri to exclude blacks from the state university’s law school when under the “separate but equal” doctrine. He did not live to see the fulfillment of school integration with the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, the case that prohibited segregation in public schools. 

He died April 22, 1950. He was posthumously honored with the NAACP Spingarn Medal that same year.

Houston is often referred to as “the man who killed Jim Crow” because he almost singlehandedly brought about the demise of the “separate by equal” doctrine. 

He is revered as a pioneering attorney during a time when there were few African American lawyers. 

He was the first African American editor at Harvard Law Review, and in 1958 the main building of Howard Law School was dedicated to him. 

Houston’s legacy lives on in 2020, as he paved the way for African American attorneys and led the fight against racial discrimination.

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