Charles Alan Wright and the University of Texas School of Law

Article excerpt

DOUGLAS LAYCOCK^

I. INTRODUCTION

This issue of the Texas International Law Journal honors Charles Alan Wright on the occasion of his retirement from The University of Texas Law School. Charlie's retirement is a momentous event in the Law School's history; he has served the Law School well for forty-two years. For most of those years, he was the best known and most respected member of this faculty; for all of those years, he was one of its major figures. His remarkable career spans more than a third of the Law School's history; his story and the Law School's story are inseparable. His personal accomplishments and his institutional loyalty contributed mightily to the Law School's progress over the last four decades.

I cannot imagine Charlie as a callow youth, and maybe he never was one. He has been described as a brash young man, and he was at any rate a remarkably young tenured law professor when he arrived at the Law School in 1955. Born in Philadelphia in September 1927, he graduated from Wesleyan University in 1947 and from Yale Law School in 1949, clerked for Judge Charles E. Clark on the Second Circuit, and assumed his duties as Assistant Professor at Minnesota on or about his twenty-third birthday. He was promoted to Associate Professor, with tenure, in 1953. He came to Texas just as he turned twenty-eight.1

Whether or not Charlie was any different in 1955, everyone and everything else was very different. Several of my younger colleagues had not been born and were not in contemplation; I suspect that their future parents had not met and were still in high school or even junior high. I was in second grade, proudly wearing my Davy Crockett T-shirt and artificial coon skin cap. If Charlie took his young son to see the Disney movie that fueled the Crockett craze, he learned that the eroded desert canyons of far west Texas begin at the Arkansas border.2

II. THE LAW SCHOOL IN 1955

Disney's portrayal of Texas was bad fiction, but the reality of Austin and the Law School in those days was dramatically different from the Austin and the Law School of today. The U.S. flag carried only forty-eight stars, and Texas was the biggest state in the union. The interstate highways had not been authorized, and no jets were yet in commercial passenger service.3 Charlie has long been a train buff, and train service was still viable in 1955. Even so, Texas was a very long ways-even further than Minnesotafrom all of Charlie's early life in the Northeast.

Austin's northern city limit was Anderson Lane, with small irregular peninsulas of incorporated land reaching as far as Rundberg and Peyton Gin Roads.4 The extreme southern city limit was just below where Ben White Boulevard is now, but Ben White did not exist. Ed Bluestein Boulevard did not exist on the east, MoPac was only a railroad track on the west, and Koenig Lane did not connect with the north-south highway through the middle of town, then called East Avenue. Closer to the Law School, 26th Street jogged half a block south at Speedway, then ended altogether at San Jacinto. The Law School sat on the corner of Red River and Park Place. Red River has since been re-routed away from the Law School, and 26th Street has been straightened, widened, and extended, and now renamed in honor of Page Keeton. One block of Park Place still survives as a narrow residential street running diagonally from Keeton to San Jacinto. Austin was much smaller in 1955, but its population was growing fast, from 132,000 in 1950 to 212,000 in 1960.5 If this rate of growth had been maintained, the city's population would now be 1.3 million.

At the Law School, Sweatt v. Painter6 was still recent, and its impact had been small. Leafing through the student photos in the 1955 Peregrinus, I found only three or four students who appeared to be black. Brown v. Board of Education7 had not yet been implemented in Austin or anywhere else in the South. Stores, restaurants, and theaters were segregated in Austin and would remain so for most of another decade, as would social life at the University. …