Nobler Tradition of the Harvard Law Review

During his extraordinary career, Charles Hamilton Houston LL.B. ’22 S.J.D. ’23 was chief architect of the assault on Jim Crow laws, vice-dean of Howard Law School, and the first special counsel to the NAACP. He was also the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. The following commentaries are based on remarks two former Review members—Kenneth A. Bamberger ’98 and Professor David B. Wilkins ’80—made at a spring event honoring the Houston legacy, occasioned by the 75th anniversary of his graduation from HLS.

The Harvard Law Review is heir to two traditions.

One is the tradition of graduating prominent African-American leaders like Charles Hamilton Houston LL.B. ’22 S.J.D. ’23, William Hastie ’30, and William T. Coleman, Jr. ’46, who worked tirelessly for social justice and equality, and truly changed our nation. In the other tradition, when the earliest black editors first spoke at Law Review meetings, some of the other editors rose and walked out of the room.

One is a tradition of graduating academic leaders such as Professors John Wilkins ’47, Christopher Edley, Jr. ’78, and David Wilkins ’80. In the other tradition, as described by Dean Erwin Griswold ’28 S.J.D. ’29 in the Review’s Centennial Album, the board could vary the number of admitted editors to exclude "unwanted members." One casualty of this tradition was C. Clyde Ferguson ’51—who would later become Harvard Law School’s second tenured black professor—when the cut-off line was set just above his grades.

One is a tradition that we are proud to claim as our own. The other claims us; it is hard to shake.

Yet on this anniversary we celebrate inside Gannett House rather than protest outside.

We are celebrating our choice. We have chosen a Review where African Americans, and Asian Americans, and Latinos serve as our leaders every year, rather than just once a decade. Where women, finally, have achieved representation equal to their numbers
on campus.

The plaque we now dedicate to Houston is a constant reminder of our choice. A reminder of the tradition that we affirm, and of the tradition that
we reject.

Kenneth A. Bamberger, President, Volume 111, Harvard Law Review

Previous Segment Table of Contents Next Segment