Throughout American history, Black students have been denied access to universities across the country, solely on the basis of their skin. When the Supreme Court began to require states to provide to African Americans equal versions of anything given to white citizens, Historically Black Universities and Colleges (HBCUs) were established throughout the United States.
In addition to the excellent education they provide, HBCUs work to improve their communities and fight injustice. But while there were once thirteen HBCU law schools in the United States, only six remain. However, those six continue on the mission of their predecessors.
More than most fields of study, law gives students the opportunity to carry out the mission of HBCUs. Every one of these schools looks at education not just as an individual endeavor, but as a means to serve the larger community. That service extends beyond the local to those around the world. The schools give future lawyers a wide range of experience and familiarity in various legal topics, preparing them to make history.
Because all of America’s HBCU Law Schools are of excellent quality, this list is unranked. Instead, we’ll help you make your decision about your future course of study by listing the various qualities of each program.
Florida A&M University College of Law (Orlando, FL)
According to its mission statement, the College of Law at Florida A&M University exists to train students who will become a transformative force for the public good. The school strives to be a “beacon of hope and catalyst for change” by providing exceptional education, thereby giving opportunities to underprivileged populations throughout the world. All of their classes emphasize distinctive teaching and scholarship, mixing professionalism with caring.
Among the many benefits FAMU Law offers to its students (and its community) is its law library. The library exists to give students the resources they need to learn about the history of key cases and decisions. It also has an open policy, allowing members of the public access to its vital information.
That type of support has resulted in a long list of celebrated alumni. One of the most accomplished is Arthenia Joyner, who graduated from FAMU Law in 1968. Since then, she went on to serve in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives.
FAMU Law continues this legacy of excellence with recent successes. This past June, the school received a $5 million grant to extend its diversification efforts in STEM fields. Shortly before that, a 2021 graduate won an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to help people avoid eviction. These achievements demonstrate that FAMU Law has no plans to step away from its mission.
The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (Washington, DC)
How vital to the community is the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law? When Antioch University decided to close its School of Law in 1986, a local grassroots campaign saved it, allowing it to eventually merge with the University of District of Columbia in 1996.
Apropos of their community focus, UDC Law emphasizes hands-on experience. Students practice in one of the school’s eight public interest clinics. In these clinics, students learn how the law aids causes such as community development, criminal law for low-income citizens, and housing & consumer protection law. These clinics are part of the school’s requirements for students at every level.
First-year students must perform at least 40 hours of community service at an approved DC non-profit or government agency. All later students may participate in externships or the school’s Summer Public Interest Fellowship.
These public service requirements give students the chance to put into practice the concepts they learn in required courses such as civil procedure, criminal procedure, and criminal law.
With such a service-focused curriculum, it’s no surprise that UDC Law has trained many who have gone on to make an incredible difference in the world. Many notable public servants have graduated from the school, including Maryland House of Delegates member Tiffany T. Alston and Alaska House of Representatives member Thelma Garcia Buchholdt, as well as former U.S. Attorney General George J. Terwilliger III and Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride.
Howard University School of Law (Washington, DC)
Established in 1869, the School of Law at Howard University is not just the oldest HBCU law school, but one of the oldest law schools in the United States. Throughout its long history, Howard Law has been a leader in American equality. Not only has the school always subscribed to a non-discriminatory policy that educated women when most other institutions would not, but it is also at the forefront of the civil rights movement.
Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice and a key figure in decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education, graduated from Howard.
Howard Law remains a dynamic force today. Students gain hands-on experience working in one of the school’s three public welfare institutes (the Education Rights Center, the Institute of Intellectual Property and Social Justice, and the World Food Law Institute) or in one of its seven legal clinics. Each of these clinics works to improve the quality of life of those in need by addressing specific issues, from alternative dispute resolution to child welfare to fair housing.
In addition to its social action, Howard Law also advances legal conversations through the several law journals it publishes. Since 1955, the school has published the student-managed Howard Law Journal. Additionally, Howard Law publishes the Howard Human & Civil Rights Law Review, as well as a student-edited newspaper (The Barrister) as well as a respected news journal The Jurist, and the newsletter Howard Docket.
North Carolina Central University School of Law (Durham, NC)
When North Carolina Central University opened in 1939 as the North Carolina College for Negroes, it was the only higher education institution that accepted Black students.
NCCU Law has grown to become one of the best law schools in the country. At the center of the program is the Turner Building on the NCCU campus, which features a model law office, several high-tech smart classrooms, two distance learning classrooms, and two high-tech smart seminar rooms.
Additionally, the fully appointed NCCU Law Library contains over 400,000 volumes, as well as an area for workshops and seminars. The school’s mission has been advanced thanks to $2 million in funding received from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as part of a mandate to improve broadband infrastructure and make legal services available to more North Carolinians.
In addition to these resources, NCCU Law also features several clinics and institutes in which students gain hands-on training and help the community. The school’s thirteen clinics address social justice concerns, such as family law, domestic violence, community development, and low-income taxpayers.
NCCU Law also features two institutes for large-scale concerns. The Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Law Institute takes a multidisciplinary approach to contribute to the development of global biotechnology and pharmaceutical law. In the Dispute Resolution Institute, students and clients learn alternative means of resolving conflicts.
Southern University Law Center (Baton Rouge, LA)
One of only two law schools in the state of Louisiana, the Southern University Law Center came to be after African American veteran Charles J. Hatfield III was denied admission to Louisiana State University Law School. Following the separate but equal doctrine, the state opened the SULC in September 1947 to allow Black students to study law.
Based in the 93,400 square foot A. A. Lenoir Hall, the Law Center breaks from most legal programs by emphasizing the substantive and procedural law of Louisiana, with its French and Spanish origins. Students in their second and third years have the opportunity to work in one of the school’s seven clinics.
These clinics include the Administrative/Civil Law Clinic, the Juvenile Law Clinic, and the Mediation Clinic. Alongside its community service, the Law Center extends legal conversations in the two legal journals it publishes, the Law Review and The Journal of Race, Gender and Poverty.
Students can study in full-time, part-time, evening programs. Additionally, the school offers a study-abroad program that sends students to London and allows them to take courses with international subject matter.
The support provided by the Law Center has led to some outstanding graduates. Alumni include notable legislators such as former Governor of Louisiana Mike Foster and Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, as well as legal figures such as United States Attorney Stephanie A. Finley and Louisiana Supreme Court Associate Justice Jesse N. Stone.
Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law (Houston, TX)
By choosing as its namesake a towering figure in African American legal history, the Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law is not just setting down a challenge for itself. It’s also honoring a key player in the school’s creation.
Since then, TSU Law has worked to honor the legacy of its namesake, in part by publishing two legal journals. The Thurgood Marshall Law Review has featured the work of legal minds across the world since 1970 and the student-run Thurgood Marshall School of Law Gender, Race, and Justice Law Journal. Additionally, the TSU Law Library boasts over 350,000 volumes, earning it 31st place in the National Jurist’s best American law libraries list.
Students can further serve their community by working in the school’s three legal clinics. At the Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Justice, Inc, students identify solutions to legal and social issues that target minority communities. The Center for Legal Pedagogy studies and creates instructional designs for legal education. The Institute for International and Immigration Law provides specialized academic and practical legal training for students planning a career in international or immigration law.