Charles Hamilton Houston Institute

The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School (CHHIRJ) was launched in September 2005 by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Jesse Climenko Professor of Law. The Institute honors and continues the unfinished work of Charles Hamilton Houston, one of the 20th century’s most important legal scholars and litigators. As the Vice Dean of Howard Law School, Houston engineered the multi-year legal strategy that led to the unanimous 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, repudiating the doctrine of “separate but equal” schools for black and white children. By facilitating a continuous dialogue between practitioners and scholars, he ensured that legal scholarship would resonate outside the academy, and that new legal strategies would be immediately incorporated into the training and practice of lawyers.

CHHIRJ uses this model to address contemporary challenges in our increasingly multi-racial society. Our long-term goal is to ensure that every member of our society enjoys equal access to the opportunities, responsibilities and privileges of membership in the United States. The Institute serves as a critical bridge between scholarship, law, policy and practice and is well-positioned to bring together critical players from many spheres to devise and implement research-based solutions and remedies.

The Houston Institute has developed an approach to public policy that we call “Community Justice.” This approach reflects both Charles Hamilton Houston’s admonition that “all our struggles must tie together” and a fundamental truth about public policy-making: in the United States, public policies are formulated by the few to serve the few. The standard policy-making mechanisms reward those who participate in the political process and ignore or exclude those who do not.

In contrast, the Houston Institute’s notion of community justice recognizes that citizenship has two basic elements: membership and participation. In a society that is defined by denying membership to a large segment of its population, it is unrealistic to expect participation. We believe we must create pathways to membership and participation for the excluded, and find ways to identify and amplify the voices of those too long excluded.

This fight for equality of educational opportunity (was) not an isolated struggle. All our struggles must tie in together and support one another. . . We must remain on the alert and push the struggle farther with all our might.

–Charles Hamilton Houston

Thus, we have launched the Houston/Marshall Plan for Community Justice as one of two signature initiatives of the Houston Institute.

The Houston/Marshall Plan grows out of our recognition of the devastation and underdevelopment that have been inflicted upon poor communities of color in our nation’s cities over the past 40 years. This devastation is the result of the war on crime, the war on drugs, and on policies and practices of disinvestment that cut across otherwise separate domains – including transportation, housing, education, recreation, public safety, job creation, and health care – and have created an impenetrable, mutually reinforcing web of disadvantage. One of the most debilitating consequences has been the ongoing dilution of a sense of membership such that persons most directly affected by these policies have had no voice in their shape or implementation.

The Houston/Marshall Plan for Community Justice proceeds from a simple premise: These voices must be raised, heard, and at the center of our efforts to rebuild. Its goal is to strengthen and support the growth of activism that has swept the nation over the past several years. We view this activism as expressions of community justice. In practical terms, this means that programs and interventions must be locally conceived, and grounded in the wealth of knowledge, experience and determination that exist within communities across the country. It is time to invest these assets in our future.

The centerpiece of this project is the website houstonmarshallplan.org. This website is intended to serve as a bank for new ideas, programs, policies, and public advocacy; a bank into which we can all deposit and from which we can all withdraw, and one which we hope will enrich us all.

This project and its website are designed to grow and evolve. We will add features, including mapping, as our information expands. The site will feature original blogs on timely topics, which will also be posted at http://medium.com/houstonmarshall.

The Houston/Marshall Plan for Community Justice joins the Houston Institute’s other signature initiatives, the Fair Punishment Project, (http://fairpunishment.org/) and the Prison Studies Project, (http://prisonstudiesproject.org). The Fair Punishment Project, which is particularly focused on eliminating the death penalty and Juvenile Life Without Parole, illuminates excessive punishments in our criminal justice system, and the systemic problems that create them. The Prison Studies Project works to increase educational opportunity for people in prison, awaken the broadest possible public to the ways we punish, and re-imagine justice in the United States. Through these three initiatives, CHHIRJ addresses the consequences of our nation’s ill-conceived 40 year “experiment” with “tough on crime” policies. We seek to eliminate the excessive criminal sentencing and punishment that created mass incarceration while simultaneously promoting investments in the communities that have been most deeply harmed by these policies.


We encourage you to visit the website often, and to stay as long as you like. We welcome your feedback, ideas, and support and invite you to sign up to receive our weekly updates.

For those who have been with us for the past 10 years, we emphasize that we will continue to bring exciting and informative events to campus and the Boston region, and these will be, as always, free and open to the public. Those events will join the others archived on the web site available for viewing by those who could not attend.

Meet the Houston Institute

Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Founder

Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Faculty Director

David Harris, Managing Director

Johanna Wald, Director of Strategic Planning & Development

Rob Smith, Project Director, Fair Punishment Project

Kelly Garvin, Staff Assistant

Franciska Coleman, Visiting Scholar*

*We encourage those who have an interest in applying to be a visiting scholar at the Houston Institute to visit this page to read about Harvard Law School’s Visiting Scholar Program.