Fulfilling the Promise

Howard University

School of Law

James Madison Nabrit, Jr.


Biographical Sketches

Robert L. Carter
Julian R. Dugas
Jack Greenberg
William H. Hastie
George E. C. Hayes
A. Leon Higginbotham
Oliver W. Hill
Charles Hamilton Houston
Thurgood Marshall
William Robert Ming, Jr.
Constance Baker Motley
James M. Nabrit, Jr.
Spottswood W. Robinson, III



James Nabrit, Jr., was one of the leading civil rights lawyers of his generation, actively participating in many of the seminal civil rights cases in the 1940s and 1950s. A graduate of Morehouse College (1923) and Northwestern University Law School, he joined Howard's law faculty in 1936 and two years later taught what became recognized as the first formal civil rights law course at any law school.

In the 1940s and in the early 1950s Nabrit handled a number of civil rights cases for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, working closely with Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall and others. He was one of the lead counsel on the DC case of Bolling v. Sharpe which was made a companion case of Brown v. Board of Education, but which was decided under the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment instead of the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause.

Nabrit served as dean of the Howard University School of Law from 1958 to 1960. He then was chosen as Howard University's president, a position he held from 1960 to 1965 and again from 1968 to 1969. He was the second African American to serve in that position. In 1966 Nabrit represented the United States as deputy ambassador to the United Nations.

Nabrit was born in Georgia on September 7, 1900, and died in Washington, D.C on December 27, 1997. He was married and had one son, James M. Nabrit III, who followed his father's footsteps and became a leading civil rights lawyer in his own right.