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- Fred Hampton

Charles Hamilton Houston "The Man Who Killed Jim Crow"

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Charles Hamilton Houston, (September 3, 1895 - April 22, 1950) lawyer, Dean of Howard University Law School and NAACP Litigation Director was born in Washington D.C..

Houston helped play a role in dismantling the Jim Crow laws and helped train future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall.

He is known as "The Man Who Killed Jim Crow." He played a role in nearly every civil rights case before the Supreme Court between 1930 and Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Houston's brilliant plan to attack and defeat Jim Crow segregation by using the inequality of the "separate but equal" doctrine (from the Supreme Court's Plessy v. Ferguson decision) as it pertained to public education in the United States was the masterstroke that brought about the landmark Brown decision.

Houston founded a law firm, Houston & Gardner, with Wendell P. Gardner, Sr. It later included, as name partners, William H. Hastie, William B. Bryant, Emmet G. Sullivan, and Joseph C. Waddy, each of whom were later appointed as federal judges. The firm was prestigious but their work not well-compensated. Ten members of the firm advanced to become judges, including Theodore Newman, Wendell Gardner, Jr., the son of Wendell Gardner; and Emmet Sullivan. He recruited young lawyers to work on the NAACP's litigation campaigns, building connections between Howard's and Harvard's university law schools


Houston's efforts to dismantle the legal theory of "separate but equal" were completed after his death in 1950 with the historic Brown v. Board of Education (1954) ruling, which prohibited segregation in public schools. At one point Houston had carried a movie camera as he traveled across South Carolina, in order to document the inequalities of facilities, materials and teachers' salaries between African-American and white education.

As Special Counsel to the NAACP, Houston dispatched Thurgood Marshall, Oliver Hill and other young attorneys to work a litigation campaign of court challenges to equalize teachers' salaries.

Houston also directed the NAACP's campaign to end restrictive housing covenants. In the early 20th century, the organization had won a United States Supreme Court case, Buchanan v. Warley (1917), which prohibited state and local jurisdictions from establishing restrictive housing. Real estate developers and agents developed restrictive covenants and deeds. The Court ruled in Corrigan v. Buckley (1926) that such restrictions were the acts of individuals and beyond the reach of the constitutional protections.

As the NAACP continued with its campaign in the 1940s, Houston drew from contemporary sociological and other studies to demonstrate that such covenants and resulting segregation produced conditions of overcrowding, poor health, and increased crime that adversely affected African-American communities. Following Corrigan, Houston contributed to what was a 22-year campaign, in concert with lawyers he had trained to overturn the constitutionality of restrictive covenants. This was achieved in the US Supreme Court ruling in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948).

The court ruled that "judicial enforcement of private right constitutes state action for the purpose of the fourteenth amendment." Houston's use of sociological materials in these cases lay the groundwork for the approach and ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

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