- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

Had it not been for the great legal minds teaching and training at Howard University — such as Charles Hamilton Houston, James M. Nabrit Jr., William H. Hastie, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Spotswood Robinson III and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall — America may not have lived up to its constitutional promise of equality.

Howard University’s role is legendary in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed segregated public schools. The 133-year-old school has been prominent in other civil rights litigation that ended discrimination in housing, employment and voting.

In the fall 2002 edition of Howard magazine, Baltimore writer Frank McCoy noted the portraits of graduating classes dating back to the late 19th century that line the school’s halls, writing, “The assembled groups on those walls comprise the multi-generational team that ultimately defeated ‘Jim Crow.’”

University President H. Patrick Swygert remarked, “Modern civil rights litigation was shaped and formed at Howard’s law school,” which until the 1950s graduated 90 percent of the country’s black lawyers.

Today, several of the legal giants involved in national desegregation efforts will be bestowed honorary degrees during the 137th annual Charter Day Convocation at Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium.

The Charter Day focus on the 1954 Supreme Court decision is one of many yearlong events the university is sponsoring under its “[email protected]: Fulfilling the Promise” project. Its seminars, exhibitions and lectures are designed to not only commemorate the ruling, but also develop strategies for making the ruling relevant.

Julian Riley Dugas, the District’s first city administrator, was among those involved in the groundbreaking cases that Howard Law School teachers, students and alumni argued — culminating in the Brown decision. Mr. Dugas was involved in the District’s companion to the Brown case, Bolling v. Sharpe.

Mr. Dugas will receive a doctor of law degree today, along with:

• Charles T. Duncan, who assisted in writing the second brief for Brown.

• Jack Greenberg, who argued Brown before the Supreme Court.

• Oliver W. Hill Sr., who litigated Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, one of Brown’s consolidated cases.

• Frankie Muse Freeman, who won a landmark housing desegregation case in St. Louis.

Mr. Houston, a native Washingtonian considered the architect of the legal strategy for Brown and called “the man who killed Jim Crow,” will be honored posthumously.

“I was flattered that I would be picked to be with the really great giants in the law,” Mr. Dugas, 85, said this week.

A 1949 law school graduate, Mr. Dugas was the youngest member of the team in the companion case, Bolling v. Sharpe, which was a frontal challenge of the legality of segregation. He worked closely with Mr. Nabrit and lead attorney George E.C. Hayes, and his primary duty was to maintain the organization and structure of the case filings and documents.

(Because it is not a state, the District could not challenge segregation on the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection. The District case, involving a black student denied entrance to Sousa Junior High School, was argued using the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process.)

Born in Greenwood, S.C., and raised in Augusta, Ga., Mr. Dugas originally had hopes of becoming a singer. During his Navy tours in the Philippines from 1943 to 1945, he wrote home to say he had changed his mind and had decided to become a lawyer “because I want to find out how they can do what they’re doing to us [as U.S. citizens].”

He was a leader in the District’s home rule campaign and served as the first city administrator in the government headed by longtime friend Walter E. Washington.

He was also special assistant to Howard’s president, chairman of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, head of the department of economic development and a member of the Office of the Corporation Counsel, while maintaining a private practice with the black-owned law firm of Cobb, Howard and Hayes.

Mr. Dugas said he has enjoyed being “a servant of the people in the city.”

However, it was his stint as founder and director of the Neighborhood Legal Services in the mid-1950s that gives him the most pride.

“I was very proud to provide first-class legal representation to the poor; it was something that was always needed and it was done,” said Mr. Dugas, a father of four sons.

Mr. Dugas serves as a member of the board of directors of the Council for Court Excellence, as consultant and legal counsel to Bibleway Temple Church, and as a member of the DePriest Fifteen and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.

He currently teaches trial advocacy, his favorite course, at Howard Law School, where he has been an adjunct professor since 1964. During the welcoming ceremony for the class of 2006, Mr. Dugas listed six important values for which students must strive, including that “mediocrity is not an option.”

In a 1988 memorandum, Mr. Dugas presented a statement on how the school should continue its mission. Besides the students’ fundamental achievements of passing their bar exams, he wrote that it’s vital to focus on “ensuring that equal protection and opportunity are available for all by never shirking from reminding the nation to fulfill the promises of the Constitution in deeds not words.”

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