Julius L. Chambers was an African American civil rights lawyer, educator and activist from Mount Gilead, North Carolina. In 1948, Julius’ father owned a repair shop and he was cheated by a white customer. Since blacks could not pursue legal matters, his father could not press charges. The Chambers family faced financial setbacks and they had to send Julius to the local black high school instead of the school of their choice. His passion for change in the school systems was first ignited by the injustices he noticed in his rural community of Mount Gilead . Schools were segregated during Chambers era of learning. However, he graduated high school and attended North Carolina Central University where he studied law. Chambers was a brilliant student at North Carolina Central University. He even caught the attention of Thurgood Marshall. Chambers graduated in 1962 and he ranked first in his class of 100 peers. In 1964, he earned his LL.M. ( Master of Laws) degree from Columbia University Law School. Chambers was the first intern for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) in 1963. In 1964, Chambers opened the first integrated law firm in North Carolina. James E. Ferguson II and Adam Stein were Julius’ founding partners and because of their hard work and diligence they shaped civil rights law by winning court cases including the case Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education.
During the mid-1960s only five percent of colored children were attending integrated schools. The inception of busing was only used to help white officials maintain segregation in the school system. In 1971, the NAACP took on a case on behalf of Vera and Darius Swann. Their six-year-old child was not allowed to attend the school closest to their home due to busing guidelines. James McMillan, the judge overseeing the case, ruled in favor of the Swanns and he was responsible for the implementation of integrated busing orders and regulations. McMillan’s decisions were eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and they decided to uphold his decisions.
Chambers and his team also won two more monumental court cases, Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971) and Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody (1974). Chambers left his firm in 1984 to become the director-counsel of the Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Under the leadership of Chambers, this program fought for civil rights and affirmative actions starting in the 1970s. He remained devoted to education,returning to North Carolina Central University where he Served as Chancellor for eight years. Chambers published a plethora of books, taught at various law schools, and served as a faithful member of many boards and organizations. Julius L. Chambers passed away on August 2, 2013, he was 76 years of age.
Julius L. Chambers still impacts and inspires change in the school system. Earlier this year, Vance High School was renamed Julius L. Chambers High School in honor of Mr. Chambers and his work. Despite the difficulties of segregation, Julius was able to overcome and rise above those obstacles.
Written By: Ariah Cornelius, Victory Christian HS