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No fee for attorney who takes student protest case: 1934 | by Washington Area Spark
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No fee for attorney who takes student protest case: 1934

Perry Wilbon Howard, II (June 14, 1877 – February 1, 1961), was an African-American attorney from Mississippi and partner of a prominent law firm in Washington, D.C. He is shown here in an undated photograph circa 1930.


He served as the longtime Republican National Committeeman from the U.S. state of Mississippi from 1924 to 1960, even as he conducted his career in the capital.


He was appointed in 1923 as United States Special Assistant to the Attorney General under Warren G. Harding, serving also under Calvin Coolidge, and into Herbert Hoover's administration, resigning in 1928.


In 1925, while still in the employ of the administration, he took work with the Pullman Company to oppose the organization of black porters into A. Phillip Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.


Howard was twice tried on corruption-related charges stemming from his effective control over Republican patronage in Mississippi; he was acquitted both times by all-white juries that possibly feared the threat of white Republicans more than they worried about patronage issues.


Following the trials, Howard resigned from his post in the United States Department of Justice, but he retained his position as head of the Republican Party in Mississippi and member of the National Committee. He continued to have a successful career as partner and head of the top black law firm in Washington, DC Howard, Hayes and Davis (later Cobb, Hayes and Howard).


In 1934 he came to the defense of Harold Covington, a waiter at the House of Representatives that was fired for serving a black reporter for the Afro American. Covington joined a demonstration of 30 Howard University students against Jim Crow at the U.S. Capitol restaurants and became involved in an altercation with a doorman during the protest.


Police charged Covington with assault and disorderly conduct. Howard came to his defense and the prosecutor dropped the charges since it seemed that the doorman made the first move.


Howard announced he would accept no fee and said afterward:


You young students were fighting against something that many old people are afraid to speak against. I feel you were right and as long as young people of my race are chastised for doing the right, I am always ready to fight for them; I am glad to have been of service to you.


For a detailed blog post on the fight against Jim Crow in the U.S. Capitol restaurants, see


For related images, see


The photographer is unknown. The image is a Scurlock Studio photograph courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History: Archives Center.

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Taken circa 1930