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Houston, Charles Hamilton (1895-1950)

Charles Hamilton Houston, a renowned civil rights attorney, was widely recognized as the architect of the civil rights strategy that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education.  He was also a mentor to Thurgood Marshall who successfully litigated the pivotal Brown case.

Houston was born on September 3, 1895 in Washington, DC to parents William Houston, an attorney, and Mary Houston, a hairdresser and seamstress. He attended M Street High School (later Dunbar High School) in Washington, DC. Following graduation, he enrolled at Amherst College in Massachusetts where he was the only black student in his class. Houston was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the national honor society there. Upon graduating in 1915, he was selected to deliver that year’s valedictory address.

After graduating from Amherst, Houston returned to Washington.  He joined the U.S. Army in 1917 and was trained in the all-black officers training camp in Fort Des Moines, Iowa in 1917. Houston was later deployed to France. While there, Houston and his fellow black soldiers experienced racial discrimination which deepened his resolve to study law.

Following his military discharge in 1919, Houston entered Harvard Law School. He excelled in his studies and became the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. As a law student, Houston was mentored by future Supreme Court Judge Felix Frankfurter. In 1922 as Houston graduated with high honors, Frankfurter nominated him for the prestigious Frederick Sheldon Fellowship, which allowed him to study law at the University of Madrid. 

Upon his return from Spain in 1924 Houston practiced law with his father, William, at Houston & Houston, and began teaching in Howard University Law’s evening program.  Eventually he became Dean of the Howard University Law School.

Houston’s legal accomplishments eventually captured the attention of Walter White, the chief executive of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1935 Houston was hired as Special

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