Remembering a Renaissance Man

September 22, 2015—Longtime Columbia Law School Professor Charles L. Black Jr. would have been 100 years old today. Black taught for a half century, beginning and ending his career at the Law School. Although he died in 2001, his legacy and larger-than-life personality live on, as do his many contributions to constitutional and civil rights law, capital punishment, and admiralty.


When scholars questioned the legal validity of the Brown decision, Black became its staunchest academic supporter, writing “The Lawfulness of the Segregation Cases” in 1960. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren called Black’s work vital. 

Black wrote briefs in the Brown v. Board of Education case, was an early opponent of the death penalty, and published a primer on impeachment proceedings that maintained its relevance across generations. He taught Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and wrote one of the most highly regarded texts on admiralty law. 

But Black had a rich life outside the legal community as well. He published three collections of poetry and was a known jazz aficionado—his admiration for Louis Armstrong earned him a place in documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’ series Jazz. He is survived by Columbia Law School Dean Emerita Barbara Aronstein Black '55,
It’s the last day of summer. Tomorrow is the first day of fall. Today, we celebrate Black—truly a man of all seasons.