In 1909, the NAACP commenced what has become its legacy of fighting legal battles to win social justice for African-Americans and indeed, for all Americans. The most significant of these battles were fought and won under the leadership of Charles Hamilton Houston and his student and protégé, Thurgood Marshall.
After training the first generation of Civil Rights lawyers during his years as Dean of Howard University’s Law School, Houston was appointed in 1935 to be the first Special Counsel of the NAACP. Often referred to as the “Moses of the civil rights movement,” Houston was the architect and chief strategist of the NAACP’s legal campaign to end segregation.
When Thurgood Marshall succeeded Houston as NAACP’s Special Counsel, he continued the Association’s legal campaign. During the mid-1940s, in Smith v. Allwright, Marshall successfully challenged “white primaries,” which prevented African Americans from voting in several southern states. In Morgan v. Virginia (1946), Marshall won a case in which the Supreme Court struck down a state law that enforced segregation on buses and trains that were interstate carriers. In 1950, Marshall won cases that struck down Texas and Oklahoma laws requiring segregated graduate schools in Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma. In those cases, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court held that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment required those states to admit black students to their graduate and professional schools.
Today, NAACP attorneys are still challenging racial discrimination whether it appears in the guise of corporate hotel policies that discriminate against African-American college students, voting disenfranchisement during national presidential elections or state sponsored symbols of white supremacy, such as the confederate battle flag. The NAACP’s Legal Department focuses on class actions and other cases of broad significance in areas including employment, education, housing, environmental justice, criminal law and voting, striving always, to advance the Association’s goals while remembering Charles Hamilton Houston’s admonition that “[A] lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society.”
Magnolia Bar Association