Charles Hamilton Houston: A Strategic Revolutionary Attorney

By George Khoury, Esq. on February 01, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For lawyers these days, strategic action is as important as ever. And attorney Charles Hamilton Houston's history, the namesake of the Charles Houston Bar Association and the Charles Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, can teach lawyers how to effectively implement a go-wide strategy.

If you don't know who Charles Houston is, you may have learned about him in your U.S. history class as he is widely credited as "the man who killed Jim Crow." But how he did it, and then led the charge that resulted in Brown v. Board of Education and desegregation, was so strategically brilliant, that lawyers today can learn a thing or two.

Hit 'Em Where It Hurts Most

Houston knew when he began planning the strategy to dismantle segregated schools that he needed to hit governments where it hurt the most, the pocketbook. And knowing that the cost of litigation wouldn't phase the governments defending segregation policies, Houston had another plan: actually demand the "equal" part under the then-law of the land, "separate but equal."

Because schools for black children and adults were not funded or provided the same resources as white schools, and often just received the white schools' old, unwanted, and outdated resources, Houston knew that demanding actual equal treatment would result in a severe financial burden. He correctly surmised that the cost would be so burdensome, that governments would essentially be forced to end separate but equal policies out of fiscal necessity.

Hit 'Em Where It Won't Hurt First

In addition to his fiscally forward strategy, Houston also knew that going after desegregation for young school kids and teens first would cause a panic due to the widespread fears of miscegenation among the white public. As such, he started with professional and graduate schools, which were nearly all exclusively male.

Cleverly, because of the lack of female students, these concerns of miscegenation (however irrational they were) were moot. However, after establishing the precedent for graduate schools, Houston orchestrated the campaign to desegregate colleges, and all schools.

Sadly, Houston did not live to see the end of Brown v. Board of Education, nor the rest of the civil rights movement, as he died in 1950 of a heart attack, at the age of 54.

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