Born:  October 31, 1924
Washington, D.C.

Summary by
Genevieve Beske

Interviews Conducted by
Professor Myles V. Lynk and
Gregory L. Poe, Esq.

Charles T. Duncan, Esq.

Oral History Text & Documentation

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Oral History Summary

BIOGRAPHY – Sept. 1995

Charles T. Duncan was born in Washington, D.C., where he attended public schools through the ninth grade. He graduated from Mount Hermon Preparatory School for Boys, Mount Hermon, Massachusetts (now Northfield Mount Hermon School); Dartmouth College, cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1947; and Harvard Law School, 1950.

From 1950 to 1953, Mr. Duncan was an associate in the New York City law firm of Roseman, Goldmark, Colin and Kaye. From 1953 to 1961, he was engaged in private law practice in Washington, D.C. with the firm of Reeves, Robinson and Duncan and during this time participated in the preparation of the second brief for the argument of Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court of the United States. From 1954 to 1960 he was also a lecturer in Law and Associate Professor of Law at the Howard University School of Law.

In September 1961 he became Principal Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, having served briefly as Chief of the Appellate Division of the United States Attorney’s Office. In 1965 he was appointed as the first General Counsel of the United States Equal Employment OpportUnity Commission, with offices in Washington, D.C.

From November 1966 to May 1970 Mr. Duncan was Corporation Counsel for the District of Columbia. As Corporation Counsel, he directed a professional staff of 70 attorneys and was responsible for the conduct of the legal affairs of the District Government and for the implementation of Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1969, which created a Presidentially appointed Mayor and City Council for the District of Columbia.

By virtue of his office, Mr. Duncan, by Executive Order of the President of the United States, was designated second (to the Deputy Mayor) in line of succession to act as Mayor of the District of Columbia during the absence or disability of the Mayor, or in case of a vacancy in that office. On several occasions, Mr. Duncan acted as Mayor during the absence of the Mayor and his Deputy.

During his tenure as Corporation Counsel, Mi. Duncan also served as Acting Director of Public Safety, with direct responsibility for the police, fire and related departments, and as Counsel for the D. C. Public Service Commission and the Armory Board.

In May 1970, Mr. Duncan joined the Washington law firm of Epstein, Friedman, Duncan and Medalie, where he engaged in general practice, with emphasis on criminal justice, administrative and municipal matters.

Mr. Duncan assumed the Deanship of the Howard University School of Law in July 1974, and served in that capacity until August 1977. He remained at Howard Law School until April 1978 as Professor of Law, teaching courses in Constitutional Law, among others.

In April 1978 Mr. Duncan became a partner in the law firm of Peabody, Rivlin, Lambert and Meyers, where he specialized in litigation. In September 1984, Mr. Duncan joined and became a partner in the law firm of Reid & Priest; from January 1990 to July 1994, he was Senior Counsel to the firm.

On August 1 , 1994, Mr. Duncan became a member of the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, an international arbitral tribunal which sits in the Hague, the Netherlands. He was one of three American members of this nine-member body and was appointed by the Secretary of State. Mr. Duncan retired from the Tribunal in December 2000.

Mr. Duncan is currently a Senior Trustee of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Before joining the Tribunal, he was a trustee of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. He was also a board or advisory board member of the Frederick B. Abramson Memorial Foundation, the District of Columbia Bar Association and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He chaired the Council on Ethnic and Racial Justice of the American Bar Association Commission on Opportunities for Minorities in the Profession and was a member of the Task Force of the District of Columbia Circuit on Gender, Race and Ethnic Bias, of a Hearing Committee of the Board of Professional Responsibility of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and of the District of Columbia Federal Judicial Nominating Commission.

Mr. Duncan was a member of the Board of Directors of Eastman Kodak Company (1 977-1 995), TRW, Inc. (1983-1995), the Proctor & Gamble Company (1982-1988) and the National Bank of Washington (1973-1979).

He is a former Trustee of the Supreme Court Historical Society and the Northfield Mount Hermon School (Chairman of the Board, 1987-1990) and was an Overseer of the Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College. He also has long been active in civic affairs, having served on the Boards of the Health and Welfare Council, the Washington Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Boy Scouts of America, Travelers Aid Society, Northwest Settlement House, Columbia Hospital for Women, Arena Stage, and many others. He has received many awards and citations for his civic and professional activities. In 1986 he received an honorary LL.D. from his alma mater, Dartmouth College.

Besides the District of Columbia Bar, Mr. Duncan is a member of the Bars of New York, Maryland, and the United States Supreme Court. He also holds membership in the American Bar Association, the National Bar Association and the Washington Bar Association. In June 1972 he was elected to the office of President-Elect of the District of Columbia Bar (Unified) and served as President in 1973-1 974. He is a Life Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and was a member of the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association (1 982-1 989). From 1975 to 1982 he was a member (Chairman, 1975-1980) of the District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission.

Mr. Duncan received the William J. Brennan, Jr. Award of the District of Columbia Bar in June 2001, “in recognition of his exemplary legal career dedicated to service in the public interest which has made a significant difference in the quality of American justice”. He was also cited by the Senate of Maryland, in Senate Resolution 564 on March 8,2002, in recognition of his exemplary legal career spanning fifty years.

Mr. Duncan was on active duty with the US. Naval Reserve in 1945-1946, with the rank of Ensign. His hobbies have included photography and boating, and he has been a licensed instrument-rated commercial pilot. His fist wife, Dorothy Adelena Thrasher, to whom he was married in July 1947, died in December 1972. He has one son, Todd, a graduate of Cornell University and a journalist, and two grandchildren: Dorothy Lauren (Lauren) Duncan and Charles Dirk (CD) Duncan. He married Pamela Thurber in August 1996.