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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Howard, Charles P., Sr.
(March 10, 1890–January 25, 1969)

–lawyer, journalist, publicist, civil rights activist, Progressive Party leader, and United Nations correspondent—was born in Abbeville, South Carolina, and attended Morris Brown College in Atlanta. In 1917 he graduated from the Fort Des Moines Army Officer Candidate School. He then served as a second lieutenant with the 92nd Division, 366th Infantry in France during World War I.

    After graduating from Drake University law school in 1922, Howard joined the Iowa Bar Association and soon became chairman of the Iowa Negro Bar Association. In 1925 he helped found the National Negro Bar Association, later renamed the National Bar Association (NBA), which was organized in part to protest the American Bar Association's (ABA) refusal to admit black lawyers. Although the ABA later admitted African Americans, Howard and other NBA founders saw a continuing need for an organization to represent the interests of minority attorneys.

    While practicing law in Des Moines in the 1920s and 1930s, Howard was a columnist for the Iowa Bystander (Iowa's statewide African American newspaper). He also served as legal counsel for the Polk County Insanity Commission. In 1932 Des Moines Mayor Dwight Lewis appointed him city prosecutor. In 1939 Howard helped his three sons found the Iowa Observer, an African American neighborhood newspaper. The Iowa Observer expanded in the 1940s into several weekly publications in Iowa, Indiana, and Wisconsin. In the 1950s he headed the Howard News Syndicate, which served 34 newspapers in the United States and abroad.

    Between 1935 and 1951 Howard's private law practice was tarnished by clients' complaints of unethical or negligent conduct. In 1940 an Iowa district court suspended for six months Howard's license to practice law. Additional client complaints in the 1940s led Howard, on February 16, 1951, to voluntarily surrender his license. Howard failed twice in his attempts to obtain readmission to the Iowa bar. In 1994 the Iowa Supreme Court refused Howard's admirers' request to have him posthumously readmitted to practice in Iowa courts.

    While embroiled in ethical issues, Howard distinguished himself in the 1940s as a trial lawyer and champion of civil rights in Iowa. In 1947 he represented a light-skinned African American woman who alleged that Des Moines police officers had mistaken her as white and then jailed her for being in the company of a black man. In 1948 and 1949 he was lead attorney for Edna Griffin and other blacks in their discrimination suits against Katz Drug Store in Des Moines. Settlement of the famous Katz case effectively ended overt discrimination against African Americans in Iowa's public accommodations. In 1950 Howard represented, in an Iowa Supreme Court case, an African American man who claimed police in Sioux City had beaten out of him a confession of raping a white female teenager.

    On July 23, 1948, Howard delivered the keynote address at the national Progressive Party convention that nominated fellow Iowan Henry A. Wallace for president. Wallace and the Progressive Party pursued an aggressive antidiscrimination campaign in the North and South. In March 1948 Howard brought to Iowa his friend Paul Robeson, the world famous actor, singer, and civil rights activist, to campaign for Wallace and other Progressive Party candidates.

    Howard's close association with Robeson coincided with his increasingly internationalist outlook. He also voiced protests against increased government surveillance, investigations, and trials of alleged Communist Party members, civil rights leaders, and peace activists. In 1948 he worked with Robeson, W. E. B. DuBois, and publisher Charlotta Bass to establish a committee to fight Jim Crow segregation in the Panama Canal Zone. In 1950 Howard was elected as a U.S. delegate to the World Peace Conference in Warsaw, Poland. Following the Warsaw conference, he accepted Joseph Stalin's invitation to visit the Soviet Union. In the early 1950s, unsurprisingly, Howard himself came under Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance.

    In 1951, after relinquishing his attorney's license, Howard moved from Des Moines to New York City. There he worked as a representative of African nations at the United Nations and published essays on African independence movements and on the civil rights movement in the United States. Howard's articles in Freedomways: A Quarterly Review of the Freedom Movement castigated United States' and European nations' exploitation of newly independent African states.

    Howard died in Baltimore at age 79 and was survived by three sons, Charles P. Howard Jr., Joseph, and Lawrence.
Sources For an overview of Howard's life, see Alfredo Parrish, "The Legacy of Black Attorneys in Iowa," in Outside In: African-American History in Iowa, 1838–2000, ed. Bill Silag et al. (2001). For discussion of Howard's association with Paul Robeson, see Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson: A Biography (1988). Howard's Progressive Party activities receive treatment in Curtis D. MacDougall, Gideon's Army, vol. 3, The Campaign and Vote (1965). An overview of ethics complaints against Howard is in 512 N.W. 2d 300 (Iowa 1994).
Contributor: Bruce Fehn

Cite as: Fehn, Bruce. "Howard, Charles P., Sr." The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 13 December 2017