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Doctoral Dissertation Announcement
Candidate: Gordon P. Andrews
Doctor of Philosophy
Title: Undoing Plessy: Charles Hamilton Houston, Race, Labor, and the Law
Dr. Nora Faires, Chair
Dr. Wilson Warren
Dr. Edwin Martini
Dr. J. Kevin Corder
Date: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 10:00 a.m. to Noon
4154 Dunbar Hall
Undoing Plessy: Charles Hamilton Houston, Race, and the Law explores the manner in which African Americans countered racialized impediments during the first half of the twentieth century by attacking their legal underpinnings. Specifically, this work explores the professional life of Charles Hamilton Houston, and how it informs our understanding of change in the pre-Brown era. There were a multiplicity of forces at work, from individuals, organizations, and institutions, to government in its various forms (local, state, and federal), complicating any strategy to reformulate the parameters of equality. Using both labor and education law as the focus of this study, the complicating issues of race, the state, and the workplace will demonstrate the interplay of forces which together constituted the structure Charles Houston and others sought to dismantle. Houston’s life was replete with examples illustrating the gains made by African Americans who sought to exercise their own collective agency, contesting the imposed boundaries that limited their lives.
This study argues that major inroads into the dismantling of Plessy were made after the incorporation doctrine was implemented through the Supreme Court’s 1925 decision in Gitlow v. New York. The Gitlow decision rejuvenated the 14th Amendment’s original intent, rescuing it from the reactionary and corporatist interpretation that relegated African Americans and labor to the predations of individual, local, state, and federal caprice. Houston, early in his career, developed a three-prong approach, taking advantage of the courts, the workplace, and (over) politics, as a strategy to broaden the attack. By exercising his vision, Houston was able to perceptively and presciently take maximum advantage of a system that too often marshaled its forces to thwart the constitutional rights of African Americans. By rejecting the legalistic approach regularly attributed to Houston, this study asserts that Houston’s successes were linked to his understanding of the nature of race labor and the law in America. Undoing Plessy: Charles Hamilton Houston, Race, Labor, and the Law is divided into three parts, Establishing Plessy, Confronting Plessy, and Undoing Plessey, providing historical context to Houston’s life’s work.