James M. Nabrit, Jr.
counsel in Bolling v. Sharpe, one of the five Brown
By Joey Berlin, class of 2004
While Thurgood Marshall became famous for
arguing Brown v. Board of Education, James M. Nabrit,
Jr., also received deserved credit for his work connected
to the case. Nabrit became a celebrated champion of civil
rights by arguing Bolling v. Sharpe, one of the five
cases placed under the Brown v. Board heading.
Nabrit was born in Georgia on Sept. 4, 1900. He practiced
law in Houston from 1930 until 1936, then took a teaching
position at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Nabrit became
an administrator at Howard, served as dean of the school from
1958 until 1960, then served as the school's president until
his retirement in 1969. His nine years of service as school
president came during the time of the "black power"
Nabrit, Jr., established the first civil
rights class in an American law school in 1937. Nabrit argued
in more than one landmark civil rights case. In 1939, representing
the NAACP, he argued in a voting rights case, Lane v. Wilson,
involving a grandfather clause in Oklahoma that denied blacks
the right to vote. According to his son, Nabrit then worked
with Marshall on cases during the 1940s.
In Bolling v. Sharpe, Nabrit took
the case of a black Washington student named Spottswood Bolling,
Jr. After the case joined four others as components of Brown
v. Board of Education, Nabrit argued the case with another
black attorney, George EC Hayes. Nabrit did not merely argue
for the equalization of black schools, as many observers in
the black community wanted him to do; rather, he argued that
school segregation was entirely unconstitutional. The Supreme
Court ruled in favor of Bolling and, in the picture at right,
Hayes, Marshall and Nabrit are pictured congratulating each
other following the Brown rulings.
In an interview in the July/August 2001 issue
of The Washington Lawyer, James Nabrit III said that
as he was growing up, "My father was always busy and
had great intellectual abilities, but he was a kind and devoted
parent who came home to dinner regularly and played ball with
my friends and me. He was very sociable and gregarious."
Nabrit III followed in the footsteps of his father, serving
as an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
for 30 years. Nabrit, Jr., died Dec. 27, 1997.
were prominent black lawyers and journalists who were
attacking Thurgood Marshall and my father because they
were afraid that a direct assault on the separate-but-equal
doctrine might fail. They wanted the NAACP to seek only
the equalization of black schools. "
James Nabrit III, son of Nabrit, Jr.