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CMS board votes to rename Vance High School for Julius Chambers
Attorney was civil rights and education giant
Published Tuesday, October 13, 2020 8:30 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

Charlotte-Mecklenburg's school board voted Tuesday to rename Zebulon B. Vance High School in honor of civil rights attorney Julius Chambers.

Zebulon B. Vance High School is now Julius L. Chambers High.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education voted Tuesday to rename the campus in honor of Chambers, a Charlotte civil rights attorney who successfully argued Swann v. Board of Education, the 1971 Supreme Court case that paved the way for busing as a school desegregation tool. He also successfully argued that year Griggs v. Duke Power, in which the Supreme Court 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.

“Names and symbols should reflect our values. They speak to who we are and what we aspire to do,” said CMS Supt. Earnest Winston, who recommended the name change from three candidates, which included Queen City High and University City High. “Mr. Chambers was a major figure in civil rights locally and nationally, bringing cases that shaped our laws to the U.S. Supreme Court. In this renaming, we consulted with the students, the school staff and the community.”

Renaming Vance High was the culmination of a months-long community debate about the racist background of Zebulon Vance, a lawyer, Confederate military officer and elected official from Buncombe County whose family owned slaves. Vance (1830-1894) was twice elected governor (1862-65, 1877-79) before election to the U.S. Senate in 1879, where he served until his death.

Chambers (1936-2013), a Mount Gilead native, founded North Carolina’s first integrated law firm, which brought several landmark cases that shaped American civil rights in the 1970s, including Swann, despite attacks from racist opponents who firebombed his house, car and office.

Chambers, who never lost a case in eight appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court, went on to serve as chancellor at North Carolina Central University, his alma mater, from 1993-2001. Before that, he was director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund from 1984-93.

“Mr. Chambers’ life and legacy represents the very best of who we are,” school board Chair Elise Dashew said. “He worked to make our county, state and country a more just and fairer place for all of us. His name on the high school will remind students, and the rest of us, that social justice is achievable, and we share responsibility for making it happen.”
The school renaming is another honor for Chambers in Charlotte. A stretch of Interstate 85 from the I-77 interchange to the I-85 connector is the Julius Chambers Memorial Highway.

The board also approved naming the new K-8 language magnet school in south Charlotte the South Academy of International Languages and the tennis courts at Independence High for coaches Jan and Dianne Spence. SAIL, which opens in 2022, is located on the site of the former Nations Ford Elementary School. The tennis courts at Independence honor Jan and Dianne Spence, who built a successful program at the school.

“Mr. and Mrs. Spence’s dedication to student athletes over the last 15 years has made the tennis program the success that it is today,” Independence Principal David Legrand wrote in a letter supporting the naming. Jan Spence, a retired WBTV photographer and one of the first African Americans hired to that role at the station, split campus duties between security associate and coaching. Dianne Spence is a retired teacher who still substitutes.


Learning of this news gives me a lot of joy. Julius Chambers was a personal friend of my late grandfather and late uncle. I had the pleasure of meeting him when I was 8 years old and it was only years later that I realized how important and influential the gentleman's hand I had just shaking.
Posted on October 14, 2020

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