Duquesne brings together ‘Living Legends’

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Another Black History month came to a close last week, but Pittsburgh’s celebration ended with an unprecedented event. For the first time ever, John Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston Jr., the sons of civil rights pioneers Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston, came together to talk about their fathers’ accomplishments.

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BLACK HISTORY MONTH —From left: John Marshall, Ken Gormley, and Charles Hamilton Houston Jr.

“(My father’s) concern was eliminating second-class citizenship for anyone suffering from racial or economic discrimination,” Houston said. “He would’ve been interested in Pittsburgh I think because of its emphasis on labor organizations as well as the plight of African-American citizens.”

Though many are familiar with the work of Marshall it was the late Houston who spearheaded the civil rights movement from the courtroom. While others took to the streets to protest, Houston took on the task of dismantling “separate but equal” laws and trained other young lawyers like Marshall to aid him.

“My father used Plessy vs. Ferguson to undermine the law and over turn it but also to mobilize African-Americans by seeking out individuals who were willing to stand up as plaintiffs since their rights were being denied,” Houston said. “He used court cases to overturn the negative stereotypes of African-Americans by demonstrating the high caliber competence of Black attorneys.”

At the event on Feb. 23, which was sponsored by Duquesne University’s School of Law and the Homer S. Brown Law Association, both Houston and Marshall spent the afternoon discussing the important role their fathers played in the civil rights movement, but also what should be done today to carry on their legacy.

“It seems to me that the racial discrimination has morphed somewhat into economic discrimination and the problem of poverty is the number one source of inequality in our society today,” Houston said. “I think we should be working to make sure all Americans have the opportunity to reach their full potential and to enjoy the security of health and access to quality education and safety.”

Marshall echoed Houston’s sentiments on socioeconomic discrimination. He also said anyone can have a positive impact on the civil rights struggle by what they do as an individual everyday.

“The best things we can do is each of us make sure we’re living our lives in a way that we treat people fairly and equally, doing all that we can,” Marshall said. “It’s good to always look back to determine just how far you’ve come. I leave it to others to strategize how to move forward, but we need to recommit to moving forward.”

Marshall said equal education was his father’s top priority and that his accomplishments on that front have led to the opportunities Blacks have today.  However he said education disparities today have led to disparities in the workforce.

“You can look in so many of the professional areas and there’s just not minority representation that represents the community at large,” Marshall said. “I’ve spent almost 30 years working with law enforcement and certainly there needs to be work done there. If you look in most professions you’ll see still that (work needs to be done).”

Duquesne Interim Dean Ken Gormley, who moderated the session, said it was important for the event to be open to the whole community.

“Part of it is just to appreciate it in terms of the whole story, but also I think it’s a remarkable story that nothing gets accomplished without people who are willing to put themselves on the line for racial justice and racial equality,” Gormley said. “Things don’t just happen, they require a lot of dedication and commitment.”

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