Charles Hamilton Houston
Charles Hamilton Houston was the premier black civil rights attorney prior to Thurgood Marshall. Marshall learned law activism at Houston’s knee, so to speak.

Houston is best known as an activist who used is law degree to change social conditions, winning landmark desegregation years cases prior to the famous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Houston was NAACP special counsel from 1936-40, head of Howard’s law department and operated his own private practice.

In the Washington, D.C. area Houston challenged Jim Crow at the University of Maryland in the Donald Gaines case.

He played a key role in the initial fight against Capital Transit, acting as one of the sponsors of Committee on Jobs for Negroes in Public Utilities. The Committee was composed of a broad range of organizations and individuals ranging from congressmen to communists that fought for breaking the color barrier for streetcar and bus operator jobs.

Houston later served on the federal Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) from 1944-45. Houston resigned from the FEPC in disgust, blasting President Truman who refused to force Capital Transit to integrate its operator ranks.

Houston first partnered with D.C. school activist Gardner Bishop to challenge Jim Crow schools in the District of Columbia, but died before the cases could be concluded.

He was also a fervent free speech advocate who defended the “Hollywood 10” against contempt of Congress charges when they refused to cooperate with an investigation into the Communist Party.

He is sometimes called the man who killed “Jim Crow.” The Capital Transit case is often cited as Houston’s biggest defeat. Houston, a Washington native, died April 22, 1950 and is buried in Lincoln Cemetery.

“We must never forget that the public officers, elective or appointive, are the servants of the class which places them in office and maintains them there.”

--Charles Hamilton Houston
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