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Civil rights giant challenged status quo
Julius Chambers changed U.S. through law
Published Saturday, August 3, 2013 10:34 am
by Herbert L. White

Charlotte attorney Julius Chambers, who won the historic Supreme Court case that paved the way for busing as a tool to desegregate public schools, used the law to challenge social precedent.

Charlotte attorney Julius Chambers, who won major civil rights cases that desegregated American education, politics and business, died Aug. 2 at age 76.

Mr. Chambers, 76, died on Friday after several months of poor health. His funeral is Aug. 8 at 12 p.m. at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3400 Beatties Ford Road.

Chambers, co-founder of the first racially-mixed law firm in North Carolina, was best known as a tireless champion of civil rights in the turbulent 1960 and '70s. His quiet, even demeanor in the face of often violent opposition laid the groundwork for a more racially-inclusive America.

“If you sit down and talk with people, you can accomplish much more than if you start off yelling and screaming,” Chambers told The Post in 2008. “I’ve seen it work in a lot of situations.”

Chambers, as executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, recalled the height of violence during the civil rights era in the 1960s. His house was bombed, and when terrorists bombed his car during a civil rights meeting in New Bern, he inspected the vehicle, then went back to the business at hand.

“I went outside and looked to see what had happened,” Chambers says. “They had put dynamite in my gas pipe. There was nothing one could do. We decided to continue with the meeting.”

Chambers’ most prominent Supreme Court case was Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, in which he successfully argued for busing as a tool to desegregate the district. The 1971 decision accelerated Charlotte’s ascent as a New South powerhouse and a national education model.

“I knew the importance of what we were trying to establish,” Chambers said in the 2008 Post interview. “If a judge would say something I thought was wrong, I’d just talk instead of yelling. I thought we were going to get the majority of the judges. Whether we would get a unanimous court was another question. Fortunately, we did.”

Chambers successfully argued before the Supreme Court in the 1995 Shaw v. Hunt suit to affirm the redistricting of two North Carolina congressional districts that ensured minority representation. U.S. Rep. Mel Watt – a member of Chambers’ firm from 1971-92 – and Eva Clayton became the first African American elected to Congress from North Carolina since Reconstruction.

Another major Chambers from 1971 victory was Griggs v. Duke Power, in which the justices ruled employment tests that are not job-related as unconstitutional. The decision allowed African Americans to advance from menial jobs into supervisory and management positions previously denied to them.

“It changed the whole employment dynamic,” Watt said.

Chambers also served as executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and returned to his alma mater, N.C. Central University in Durham to lead the school as chancellor from 1993-2001. He returned to his law practice at Ferguson, Stein, Chambers, Gresham and Sumpter.


History will echo that Julius Chambers is one of our civil rights warriors included in "this great cloud of witnesses" who fought to ensure that the arc of the moral universe continues to bend towards justice. To God be the glory!!
Posted on August 6, 2013

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