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HBCU Law Schools: The Imperative and Necessity for Jurisprudence Pedagogy Towards a More Perfect Union

Posted: 2 Aug 2010  

Kemit Mawakana

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: July 30, 2010


“A lawyer’s either a social engineer or [he or she] is parasite on society[,]” said the fabled attorney Charles Hamilton Houston, also known as the man who killed Jim Crow. According to Houston, “A good social engineer . . . was a lawyer who used [his or her] knowledge of the law to better the lot of the nation’s worst-off citizens.” This is the departure point from which this article examines the role of HBCU law schools in this current era.

Recent studies and other information released by various universities, institutes, organizations and academicians, have revealed that African-Americans are suffering disproportionately in almost every manner imaginable. Incarceration, unemployment, housing foreclosures, and lack of adequate health care are at historic high levels, while graduation rates, income, and two-parent households are at historic low levels. By virtually every major indices African-Americans are in trouble leaving little doubt that statistically speaking we are among the “nation’s worst-off citizens[.]”

Strikingly, public opinion polls and surveys reveal that as a group African-Americans believe they are doing better than their parents and grand-parents, and that things in America are getting better for African-Americans. Such beliefs are the exact opposite of reality. If there is another group of citizens that is doing “worse-off” than African-Americans at least those citizens are aware of their dire straights.

To absolve HBCU law schools from any responsibility for this current state of affairs, would be to negate the charge of Charles Hamilton Houston that lawyers are social engineers. As such, HBCU law schools have a special role and crucial duty to play in generating lawyers that are skilled at generating social change for the benefit of African-Americans; and thus, by extension, for the benefit of the country, Africa and the entire world.

Since their founding in the 1900s, HBCU law schools have been producing lawyers culminating in a historic, or near historic, high number of African-American lawyers today. The dismal social science data referenced above, on some level, is an indictment of HBCU law schools in as much as HBCU law schools have not produced enough lawyers that have successfully generated social justice and change. This cannot continue throughout the 21st century.

Part I of this article provides historical data on HBCU law schools. Part II of this article provides current social science data on the state of African-Americans. Part III provides recommendations for HBCU law schools to adopt in order to generate better social engineers and a better quality of life for all African-Americans.

Suggested Citation

Mawakana, Kemit, HBCU Law Schools: The Imperative and Necessity for Jurisprudence Pedagogy Towards a More Perfect Union (July 30, 2010). Available at SSRN:

Kemit Mawakana (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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