Charles Black (professor)

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Charles Black
Born (1915-09-22)September 22, 1915
Austin, Texas
Died May 5, 2001(2001-05-05) (aged 85)
New York City
Alma mater
Occupation Constitutional law
Known for

Charles Lund Black, Jr. (September 22, 1915 – May 5, 2001) was an American scholar of constitutional law, which he taught as professor of law from 1947 to 1999. He is best known for his role in the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, as well as for his Impeachment: A Handbook, which served for many Americans as a trustworthy analysis of the law of impeachment during the Watergate scandal.[1]

Born in Austin, Texas, Black graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1935 and later obtained a master's degree in English. He received his LL.B. from Yale Law School in 1943, then served in the Army Air Corps as a teacher and as an associate at Davis, Polk, Wardwell, Sunderland & Kiendl.[2] In 1947, he became a professor of law at the Columbia University Law School, where he wrote legal briefs for the successful 1954 Brown v. Board of Education suit. He also was involved in civil rights cases in the south.

In 1956, he joined Yale Law School as its first Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence. He was appointed Sterling Professor of Law in 1975. During his thirty-one-year career at Yale, he wrote numerous books, including The People and the Court, Structure and Relationship in Constitutional Law, Impeachment: A Handbook.

An outspoken critic of the death penalty, Professor Black also authored Capital Punishment: The Inevitability of Caprice and Mistake. With Alexander Bickel, Black made Yale Law School one of the world's leading centers for the study of constitutional law.

Black also co-authored The Law of Admiralty with Grant Gilmore. He often told students that when he and Gilmore were young professors, he decided that he needed to write a "black letter law" book as an alternative to relying solely on constitutional law to make his reputation.[citation needed] Although he was mainly known as a constitutional legal scholar, his work with Gilmore on Admiralty became canonical, and "The Law of Admiralty" is one of the most influential law books ever written in a practical area of law. Admiralty is the law of the sea, of shipping and shipping contracts, and is a functional, practical area of international law, in which uniformity of the application of law in ports throughout the world is important, and as a result it has evolved somewhat differently from other areas of federal law. "Gilmore and Black," as it was often called, became so influential that it is one of the few treatises that federal admiralty and international courts cite almost as though it were a primary source of law.[citation needed] It is the most cited work of maritime law in history.[citation needed]

Black was an idiosyncratic and brilliant teacher who was fond of telling stories in a strong Texas drawl that sometimes puzzled students who were inattentive, eager to become hum-drum practitioners, or otherwise not cut out for high-level intellectual discourse.

Black was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1976.[3] He returned to Columbia Law School in 1986, when his wife Barbara Aronstein Black became dean there. He served as adjunct professor of law until 1999. He died in New York City aged 85.

A lifelong fan of jazz, he was featured in the Ken Burns documentary Jazz: A History of American Music, where he related hearing Louis Armstrong perform at an Austin hotel in 1931. This experience, he said, fomented his interest in race and civil rights.

In 1959, Black published a poem, "Tracker home", in volume 3 of the avant garde small magazine Nomad. The short biography the back of the magazine describes him thus,

Charles Black teaches in New Haven, Connecticut. His work has appeared in THE SOUTHWEST REVIEW, EPOCH, and THE CAROLINA QUARTERLY.

For Black's obituary in The New York Times, former student Akhil Amar commented, "He was my hero. So many of the great moral issues of the 20th century seem clear in retrospect, but were quite controversial at the time. He had the moral courage to go against his race, his class, his social circle."


  1. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (10 May 2001). "Charles L. Black Jr., 85, Constitutional Law Expert Who Wrote on Impeachment, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-08. Retrieved 2015-10-27. 
  3. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 26, 2011. 

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