Charles Hamilton Houston (1895-1950) was born in Washington, DC to Mary Hamilton Houston, a teacher and hairdresser, and William Houston, an attorney. His childhood home was 1444 Swann St., NW. He entered M Street High School (now Dunbar High School) at the age of 12 and graduated at age 15. Graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College in 1915, Houston returned to Washington and taught English at Howard University until 1916. From 1917 to 1919, he served as second lieutenant in France during World War I. He graduated cum laude from Harvard University Law School with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1922 and later received the Doctor of Juridical Science at Harvard. In 1924 he returned to Washington, where he joined the faculty at Howard University Law School and his father's law firm.
Houston was appointed vice dean of Howard University Law School in 1929. Houston helped transform the law school from a part-time night school to an accredited full-time program. By the 1930s, Howard University had become a center for reform-minded, activist lawyers. It was at Howard University that Houston and his colleagues developed the legal strategies for challenging American institutional racism through the federal courts. Houston was a mentor to an entire generation of African American lawyers.
In 1935 Houston joined the NAACP as special legal counsel. Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and other lawyers pushed the federal government to take responsibility for protecting the civil rights of African Americans, effectively transforming the lives of all citizens. He participated in court cases involving racial discrimination in labor unions, workers' compensation, housing, higher education, jury selection, and access to public services. These cases include the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, in which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decreed racially segregated education to be unconstitutional. Although Houston died in 1950, he had been the first lawyer for the local school desegregation case that became Bolling v. Sharpe, which was a component of Brown v. Board of Education, and had laid the groundwork for the winning legal arguments in Brown and a host of other desegregation victories.
Houston's parents, William and Mary Houston, bought 1744 S Street, NW, about 1924. He and his wife Henrietta Williams Houston moved there about 1943.
Sandra Fitzpatrick and Maria R. Goodwin, The Guide to Black Washington, rev. ed. (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1999).
David M.P. Freund and Marya Annette McQuirter, Biographical Supplement and Index, Young Oxford History of African Americans (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
Genna Rae McNeil, Groundwork: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Struggle for Civil Rights (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983).
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