Desegregating Higher Education - Attorney Conrad Pearson and the Case of Hocutt v. Wilson

809 Fayetteville Street

In 1933, Thomas Hocutt, an African American student from the North Carolina College for Negroes was rejected from the University of North Carolina School of Pharmacy due to the all-white admissions policy. After hearing his concerns, two African American lawyers from Durham, Conrad Pearson and Cecil McCoy took matters in their own hands and with the support of the NAACP filed suit against the University. It would be the first ever attempt to integrate higher education in the United States. But despite their best efforts, the case known as Hocutt v Wilson would not go forward. After failing to present an official transcript, Hocutt no longer met the requirements for admission. As a result the case was dismissed. Hocutt would never be admitted to the University and the separate but equal doctrine in education would stand for another 20 years.

This was no surprise to Pearson but that didn't make it any less heartbreaking. It was widely believed that Hocutt could not have been won and some black leaders in Durham actively worked to ensure it would not be. In the end, while Durham residents were split on Hocutt, a lot of good would come from it and the law offices of Conrad Pearson. Pearson and Hocutt developed not just a working relationship but also a friendship. Meanwhile the case itself inspired other Durham lawyers to initiate civil rights actions of their own. It prompted discussion, disagreement and divergence but it also paved the way for one of the most influential cases in history to date, Brown v Board of Education, which in 1954 declared separate but equal unconstitutional and desegregated schools across the country.