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The Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit

The Houston Medallion of Merit is presented in honor of Charles Hamilton Houston, one of the founders of the Washington Bar Association. Charles Houston was born in Washington, D.C., in 1895. He attended public schools in Washington, D.C. and after graduating from M Street High School, he attended Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. At Amherst, Mr. Houston was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Houston graduated from Amherst in 1915 and he later served as an officer in World War I.

In 1919, Houston entered Harvard Law School. He graduated from Harvard in 1922, after serving as the first Black member of the Harvard Law Review. After his graduation from law school, Houston studied international law in Spain for one year and later returned to Washington, D.C. to practice law with his father.

Houston was later appointed Vice Dean of Howard Law School. His efforts transformed Howard from a small, unaccredited night school to a fully accredited institution which served as the law school for a generation of civil rights lawyers. Working with protégés such as Thurgood Marshall and Spottswood Robinson, Houston developed the strategy to use law and litigation to effectuate social change.

Houston amplified his efforts during his tenure as General Counsel to the NAACP. He first challenged the separate but equal doctrine by demonstrating that educational facilities for Black students were, in fact, far inferior to the facilities provided for white students. After years of litigation in several states, the Supreme Court ultimately discarded the separate but equal myth by holding in Brown v. Board of Education, that racial segregation in public schools is, by definition, unequal and therefore, violated the Constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. Charles Houston died in 1950, four years prior to the issuance of the Brown decision.

The Washington Bar Association established the tradition of awarding the Houston Medallion of Merit in 1975. The award is presented annually to an individual who demonstrates a commitment to Charles Houston's ideals and jurisprudence:

  1. A jurisprudence which observes and recognizes law as an organism for social justice through social engineering;
  2. A jurisprudence which espouses and demands scholarship, discipline, perseverance, vigilance and dedication in the totality of the legal, social and governmental framework;
  3. A jurisprudence which impels and challenges man to leadership and service for the betterment of the human race; and
  4. A jurisprudence which serves and operates through the instrumentality of law to disrobe and destroy the man-perceived encumbrances and trappings of birth, origin, color, creed, or religion.

It is in the character and measure of Houstonian jurisprudence that a recipient of the Medallion of Merit must stand.