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February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of the accomplishments of African Americans and recognition of their continuing contribution to the betterment and enrichment of our nation. The observance originated in 1926 as a weekly celebration in February coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It became a month-long celebration in 1970, when it was organized by black educators and students at Kent State University. It spread to other universities, cultural and community centers until 1976 when it was officially recognized by President Gerald R. Ford during the nation’s bicentennial celebration. The Law Center and the University of Houston annually observe the month with guest lecturers, presentations and special events. On Feb. 13, the Law Center will host Professor Devon Carbado of UCLA School of Law who will speak on the subject “Constitutionalizing Inequality.”

Since James Lemond became the first black graduate of the Law Center in 1970, African American graduates have gone on to take their places in courtrooms and boardrooms, as partners in major law firms, university regents, and leaders in the legislature and judiciary as well as their community.

No one epitomizes the power of a Law Center education more than the Honorable U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore of the Southern District of Texas. She was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and became the nation’s youngest sitting federal judge and the first Law Center graduate to be appointed to the federal bench. Gilmore was inspired to pursue a law career after winning a minor civil lawsuit in which she represented herself. She graduated from the Law Center in 1981 and began a 13-year tenure practicing civil litigation at a Houston law firm. During that time she also became active in politics and served on the boards of various civic and service organizations, including a stint as president of the YWCA of Houston and chair of the Texas Department of Commerce Policy Board under Gov. Ann Richards. She is also an author and has been an adjunct professor and frequent speaker at the Law Center.

Judge Gilmore is but one of many outstanding African American graduates of the Law Center. I would like to highlight a few more here and encourage you to take a minute to scroll through our slide show to learn about others.

Black History Month is a time to focus on what African Americans have meant to the country and to the Law Center, helping to shape what it has become and what it will be in the future.


Leonard M. Baynes
Dean & Professor of Law
University of Houston Law Center

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