Charles Hamilton Houston Jr., a retired Morgan State University lecturer whose work extended the legacy of his father’s contributions to the civil rights movement, died July 15 from Parkinson’s disease at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The Pigtown resident was 74.
“Charles Houston Jr. was a quiet but intellectual guy who was a scholar in his own right,” said former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, a longtime friend and president of the University of Baltimore.
He was the only child of legendary civil rights lawyer Charles H. Houston Sr., whose legal work during the 1930s helped set the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision, and Henrietta Houston, a schoolteacher.
He was born and raised in Washington and attended Roosevelt Junior High School and graduated from Cheshire Academy in Cheshire, Conn.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, he began a career in public affairs and communications, which took him to Houston, Denver and Pittsburgh, working with Gulf Oil Co. He later worked in the office of Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode.
In 1988, Mr. Houston left public relations and returned to school. He received a master’s degree in history from the University of Pittsburgh and pursued doctoral studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.
He first met Dr. Rose Jagus, a Pittsburgh scientist, 33 years ago. They married in 2003.
From 2001 until retiring in 2009 because of failing health, Mr. Houston was a lecturer in the department of history and geography at Morgan State University. His primary areas of study were American history and the advancement of social justice during the 1930s and 1940s.
He devoted much of his life to preserving the legacy of his father, who had been dean of the Howard University Law School and served as the NAACP’s first special counsel. His father was a student at Harvard Law School in the early 1920s and the first African-American to serve on the Harvard Law Review editorial board. He died in 1950, when his son was 6 years old.
Mr. Schmoke called the elder Mr. Houston an unsung hero of the civil rights movement, and said his son “spent a great deal of time reminding people of his father’s contributions to the civil rights movement. ... To many people, [his father] was not as well known as his mentee, Thurgood Marshall.”
The younger Mr. Houston worked closely with Howard University, the University of Maryland, College Park, and Harvard University, where its law school has been home to the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice since its founding in 2005.
“He and his wife, Rose, have been part of the Houston Institute family from the beginning and we have been blessed by his spirit, grace, generosity and integrity,” said David Harris, managing director of the institute. “Joining us for so many of our events, Charles always brought a warmth and dignity that embodied his father’s legacy. His smile was at once inviting and contagious and his comments always filled us with insight.
“We will miss him terribly, but he will forever occupy a central place in our collective and individual memories,” Mr. Davis said.
In 2010, Mr. Houston was also a co-founder of the Charles Hamilton Houston Scholars Program at the University of Baltimore Law School, which mentors underrepresented college freshman and sophomore students interested in legal careers.
“Through this program, dozens of students have been introduced to the law as an instrument of social reform, as his father had envisioned,” said Jose Felipe Anderson, professor of law at the University of Baltimore.
Professor Anderson is author of “Genius for Justice: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Reform of American Law,” which will be published this fall. The book will have a foreword by Mr. Houston.
“I first met Charles on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. [Board of Education] when I asked my librarian at the University of Baltimore — librarians can find anything — if they could find any relatives of Charles Hamilton Houston Sr.,” Professor Anderson said. “A few weeks later [we] found Charles, who was living in Baltimore right here in plain sight. He had come to Baltimore because his family had been close to Clarence Mitchell and Juanita Jackson Mitchell, whom he urged to go to law school.”
Professor Anderson added: “Charles Jr. was a great facilitator of his father’s history, [and] made available personal and scholarly things that previously hadn’t been. He wanted people to know the tone of the civil rights movement and what the country was going through at the time.”
In addition to his civil rights work, the elder Mr. Houston had also represented the Hollywood 10 — a group of motion-picture producers, directors and screenwriters who appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 and refused to answer questions about possible Communist affiliations in Hollywood. A film was later made about the group, “but in the movies about the Hollywood 10, not one black lawyer is shown as a trial lawyer,” Professor Anderson said.
Under Mr. Houston’s direction, papers and heirlooms that had been owned by his father were donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Library of Congress and Howard University Law School’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.
“Charles Jr. was a very strong supporter of Howard University when I was dean,” Mr. Schmoke recalled. “He was a researcher, archivist and a scholar and a real proponent of our library system. He had his own talent and passions and scholarly pursuits.”
“The discovery and preservation of the Houston archives and papers have provided resources for researchers and historians that offer evidence of the intellectual processes of lawyers and professors committed to equal justice and the elimination of oppression based on race,” said Genna Rae McNeil, professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and author of “Groundwork: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Struggle for Civil Rights.”
Mr. Houston Jr.’s son, Charles Hamilton Houston III, a lawyer who lives in Houston, Texas, said his father worked to promote the legacy of his grandfather for two reasons.
“First, it was a way for him to better understand and feel closer to the father he lost when he was 6 years old,” he said. “Second, promoting his dad’s legacy served to remind him that his father died for something larger than himself — or even his family.”
“Charles was a very elegant man who was very kind, soft-spoken and had a baritone voice who spoke the King’s English perfectly. He was a great communicator, and an extremely patient and understanding man,” Professor Anderson recalled.
Mr. Houston enjoyed reading, listening to music, birdwatching and having extended conversations with family and friends.
He was an active communicant of St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church, 120 N. Front St., Baltimore, where a memorial Mass will be offered at 6 p.m Thursday.
In addition to his wife, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, and his son, Mr. Houston is survived by a daughter, Dr. Caron Alexandra Houston of Sacramento; and three grandchildren. An earlier marriage to Carla Sue Wexler ended in divorce.