I chose this man to lead off my series this year because I have had a blog draft about separate not being equal for quite some time now. I just cannot seem to find the words to pull it together, but every time I go into my drafts I am reminded of the feelings that I had when I started writing it. I am reminded that as good as my life was, I am still different from others. I remember that people are quick to judge me because I am black. I remember that people have certain expectations of me, based on nothing besides my color. I remember that I have worked with people who had little to no exposure working with a black person before me, and that meant they approached me differently. I could go on…
What really struck me about this issue isn’t all the examples I could identify from my own life, but what I saw at the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta. It’s what I saw in Selma. It is what I read about in books. It is that not very long ago, black people could not drink from the same water fountain as a white person. How black people would take all the blame in an interracial relationship- when there was no blame to place. And how, even though these are always talked about in the past tense, things like this still happen all the time.
Houston lived from 1895-1950 in Washington, D.C. He served in the segregated army during WWI, taught at Howard University, and studied law at Harvard University. He headed the NAACP fight against “separate but equal” schools, which lead to the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision (1954). He was the first African American editor of the Harvard Law Review and the first African American to obtain a Doctor of Juridical Science from Harvard University. He practiced law alongside his father, before becoming an attorney with the NAACP, later joined by Thurgood Marshall.
Following his death, he was awarded the NAACP’s Spigarn Medal, the highest honor within the organization, and had the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School and Howard law school’s Charles Hamilton Houston Hall named in his honor.
In my opinion, what is remarkable is that he never got to see the accomplishments that put him on our radar today. This is a man who fought, legally, for what he believed in, for decisions that many of us pride today. Although I have only shared the highlights of his career, there were many other cases that he tried which led to the incredible changes in legal grounds. However, we can look at the world today and know that it isn’t ubiquitous in people’s opinions. We can go into a neighborhood school and see mostly black kids or mostly white kids, and there are people who want to keep it that way. Although it isn’t the same intent in 2017 as it was prior to 1954, we have to wonder: how much has changed?
To me, this is the question that does not get asked enough. When did we stop fighting? Did we stop? If so, why? Otherwise, why not? See, the attitudes that people had 70 years ago were passed down to their children, grand-children, and great-grand-children. Although we like to think that we are better than our ancestors, the fact of the matter is we really might not be. Plenty of people still harbor ill feelings towards others who are not enough like them. I honestly do not know anybody, including myself, who is totally accepting of others. Generalizing these feelings based on race, gender, or some other visible metric, may or may not make a difference. All I know is that we have to consciously try to be good people and speak out against evil because otherwise there is no hope for evil to go away.