When you envision the Civil Rights Movement, what leaders do you immediately think of? Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, or Malcolm X?
Though most people have never heard the name Charles Hamilton Houston, this legal scholar serves as an unsung equal rights leader. In the eyes of Houston, education was the key to disassembling systems of inequality. Houston utilized the law as a method to forge a dent in the American institution of social segregation.
As the Vice-Dean of Howard University law school, Houston cultivated the legal mind of civil rights virtuoso Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Marshall employed Houston's teachings in challenging institutionalized racism by winning the historic Brown vs. Board Education case, the U.S. Supreme court decision that eliminated racial segregation in public schools.
Houston challenged his students to use their legal education to eliminate discrimination and defeat the notion that minorities were incapable of being educated. Houston stood as the first African American editor of the Harvard Law Review thus paving the way for African American attorneys, including President Barack Obama.
Houston's legacy continues to live on through the work of the University of Baltimore School of Law professors, Cassandra Havard and Gilbert Holmes. These educators created the Charles Hamilton Houston Scholars Program (CHHSP) in order to address the lack of minority students enrolling in law school. According to the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), approximately 34% of African Americans students that enrolled in undergraduate schools were male in 2007. The lack of African Americans enrolling in college is inextricably linked to the low percentage of minorities attending law school.
Professor Holmes responded to these devastating statistics by creating a program that provides academic support for students that wish to attend law school. As a graduate of the New York University law school, Professor Holmes continues to break down barriers for African American students who wish to begin legal careers. In 1974, Holmes partnered with many notable civil rights attorneys and created his first law practice. On the 1980s, Holmes represented Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign and other well-known public officials.
Houston spent his entire legal career working to ensure that lawyers, such as Professor Holmes, receive equal opportunities regardless of race. However, the question remains: has racism been defeated in America? During Professor Holmes' career, he has encountered disheartening instances of discrimination: "During the short time I represented individuals in criminal cases, I regularly was mistaken for the defendant even though I always had on a suit and tie."
In spite of these obstacles, Professor Holmes remains an accomplished professor of law who holds a strong commitment to social advocacy. This advocacy has transformed into a summer scholars program that has touched the lives of countless students. This rigorous program provides rising sophomores and juniors the opportunity to study family law, improve academic writing skills, and participate in community service.
Coppin State University student, Stephanie Miller, serves as a member of the inaugural class of Charles Hamilton Houston Scholars. Miller credits this program as the a mitigating factor in her academic success, "[CHHSP] made this first generation college student realize that success was very tangible and that if there is anything I want in this world all it takes to get it is a little hard work. [It] gave me a deeper incentive to work hard toward my educational goal so I can experience the sweet taste of professionalism, financial stability and most importantly success!"
Undoubtedly, none of CHHSP's accomplishments could be achieved without the work of Houston. In death, Houston has inspired a generation of students to press forward in the face of insurmountable obstacles. Houston's message of perseverance continues to influences the work of Professor Holmes and Professor Havard. These educators continue to inspire students by teaching their pupils how to overcome these obstacles through education.
In memory of Houston, utilize your education to make an impact on the lives of others. Allow your voice to be heard through your education. Be a social engineer for change.
In the words of Houston, "All our struggles must tie in together and support one another. We must remain on the alert and push the struggle farther with all our might."