On September 3, 1895, Charles Hamilton Houston was born in Washington, D.C., to William Le Pré Houston and Mary Houston (née Hamilton). William, whose parents had been enslaved, had become an attorney and Mary worked as a seamstress. His parents’ careers and outreach allowed them to live in the middle and upper-class community, “Strivers’ Section”, of DuPont Circle in northwest D.C. The name of this community, according to the National Park Service website, “derives from the area’s longstanding association with leading individuals and institutions in Washington’s African American community. The recognition of a special enclave of African American leaders in the area goes back more than eighty years, when it was described by a contemporary writer as the ‘Strivers’ Section’ or the ‘community of Negro aristocracy.’”
At fifteen years old, Houston graduated from the all-Black, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. After, he would then matriculate Amherst College, a private liberal arts institution in Amherst, Massachusetts. Houston, the only Black student in his class, graduated, Phi Beta Kappa, as one of six valedictorians in 1915.
In 1915, Charles Houston returned to Washington, D.C., where he taught English for two years at Howard University, a private, historically Black university that was established in 1867. In 1917, Houston enlisted in the U.S. Army, ultimately becoming commissioned as a First Lieutenant in field artillery. Based at Fort Meade, Maryland, he served in France and Germany during World War I. The racism, discrimination and segregation that Houston experienced while serving in the military cemented his decision to become an advocate, via the law, of those whose rights were infringed upon and/or violated.