Known as “Mr. Civil Rights Lawyer,” Charles Hamilton Houston (1895-1950) worked tirelessly to advance the cause of racial justice. His legal career was multifaceted: he partnered with his father in the Washington D.C. law firm Houston & Houston, served as dean of Howard Law School, and spearheaded legal strategy for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With the NAACP he developed the blueprint and argued critical cases that paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 case that recognized that government-enforced racial segregation violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution. Houston died at the age of 54, four years before Brown was decided.
In September 1919, Charles Hamilton Houston’s illustrious career was just beginning. This was the year he entered Harvard Law School (HLS), inspired to study law after experiencing racism while serving in World War I. Of his wartime experience he wrote, “I made up my mind that I would never get caught again without knowing something about my rights; . . . I would study law and use my time fighting for men who could not strike back.”
This exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of Charles Hamilton Houston’s first year at the Harvard Law School by exploring and celebrating his connection to HLS. We are grateful to Karolyne and Bryan A. Garner for lending us Houston’s copy of Black’s Law Dictionary. In conjunction with the exhibit, Houston’s portrait is on view in the Caspersen Room.
This exhibit was curated by KB Beck, Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections. It is on view through June 2022, Caspersen Room, Harvard Law School Library.