Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice

By Gary M. Lavergne | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Iron Shoes

A lawyer is either a social engineer or he is a parasite on society.

CHARLES HAMILTON HOUSTON, HOWARD UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL

In 1926, Justice Louis Brandeis, a liberal and the originator of applying social science to litigation, quietly confided to the president of Howard University that the Supreme Court was sympathetic to Negro civil rights but that repeatedly cases were lost because of substandard briefs, shabby preparation, and facile arguing.1

A logical extension of Brandeis’s point was that a new generation of firstrate attorneys needed to be graduated from law schools serving African Americans. The most obvious source of those lawyers was Howard University, in Washington, D.C. Decades later, Thurgood Marshall recalled that in the 1920s and 1930s, the unaccredited Howard University Law School was derisively referred to as the “dummy’s retreat.” Howard Law had few or no academic standards, and most instruction took place via a night school that catered to students burdened by full-time day jobs. Judge Robert L. Carter later wrote in his autobiography that the unaccredited school produced graduates who were not able to pass the bar exam, and as a result, they remained waiters, postal workers, and porters, as if they had never attended a law school.2 But when Brandeis made his embarrassing, albeit accurate and honest, comment, the architect of a remarkable transformation of Howard Law was already on the faculty.

Charles Hamilton Houston was the son of William Le Pre Houston, a Washington lawyer, and Mary Hamilton Houston, a popular hairdresser whose customers included many of Washington’s ruling elite. Charles Houston’s academic talent became apparent while he attended the M Street

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Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1- Prologue 5
  • Chapter 2- One of the Great Prophets 8
  • Chapter 3- The Cast of Characters 20
  • Chapter 4- Iron Shoes 34
  • Chapter 5- The Shadow of Failure 45
  • Chapter 6- The Second Emancipation 58
  • Chapter 7- A University of the First Class 73
  • Chapter 8- [A Brash Moment] 86
  • Chapter 9- The Great Day 96
  • Chapter 10- [Time Is of the Essence] 111
  • Chapter 11- [the Tenderest Feeling] 124
  • Chapter 12- The Basement School 139
  • Chapter 13- A Line in the Dirt 152
  • Chapter 14- [I Don't Believe in Segregation] 170
  • Chapter 15- The Sociological Argument 187
  • Chapter 16- The House That Sweatt Built 204
  • Chapter 17- [Don't We Have Them on the Run 222
  • Chapter 18- A Shattered Spirit 238
  • Chapter 19- The Big One 253
  • Chapter 20- Why Sweatt Won 267
  • Chapter 21- Epilogue 285
  • Notes 295
  • Bibliography and Notes on Sources 335
  • Index 343
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