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Charles Houston (1895 - 1950) was a black veteran of World War I and, in the early 1930s, one of the few African-Americans to graduate from Harvard Law School. He led the legal team of the NAACP, determined to exploit the inequality inherent in the "separate but equal" doctrine instituted by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision.

In 1938, Houston took the case of Gaines v. Canada before the Supreme Court. He argued that the University of Missouri, which had denied admission to black applicant Lloyd Gaines because of his race, had violated Plessy because the school did not in fact have "separate but equal" colleges available for black students. In a landmark decision, the Court ruled in favor of Gaines, ordering his admission to the university.

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