Special programs commemorate life, legacy of Julius Chambers

A portion of N.C. Hwy. 109 is named in honor of Dr. Julius Chambers in his hometown of Mount Gilead, N.C. (Johnny Almond photo)

A portion of N.C. Hwy. 109 is named in honor of Dr. Julius Chambers in his hometown of Mount Gilead, N.C. (Johnny Almond photo)

Today on WMTG, a remembrance of Dr. Julius LaVonne Chambers concludes a week-long on-air focus on the life and legacy of the noted Mount Gilead native who helped shape the racial integration of U.S. schools and workplaces, and whose life work included minority advocacy in a number of important cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

This morning’s program begins at 7:30 a.m. and is divided into three segments:

First is an interview of Julius Chambers conducted by the late William Friday on his long-running television program, “North Carolina People”. The interview ran April 1, 2011, on UNC-TV. [Running time: about 25 minutes]

Next is a rebroadcast of the funeral service for Julius Chambers, which was held Thu., Aug. 8, at 12 noon at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, where he was a member. In addition to various ministers of the church, remarks were offered by Anthony Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte and now U.S. Secretary of Transportation in President Barack Obama’s cabinet. Also speaking in the service were Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a position held by Chambers (1984-1993); Debra Saunders-White, chancellor of North Carolina Central University, a position also once held by Chambers (1993-2001); and James Ferguson, a partner in Chambers’ law office in Charlotte. The sermon is delivered by Rev. Dr. Clifford A. Jones, Sr., the church pastor. [Running time: about an hour and ten minutes]

The  program concludes with remarks from Chambers himself, recorded in February 2009 when he received the American Bar Association’s Spirit of Excellence Award at the ABA Mid-Year Meeting in Boston. In announcing the honorees, the American Bar Association said, “The Spirit of Excellence Awards celebrate the efforts and accomplishments of lawyers who work to promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession. Awards are presented to lawyers who excel in their professional settings; who personify excellence on the national, state or local level; and who have demonstrated a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession. The recipients of (the) award continue the tradition of excellence and stand as shining examples to (the legal) profession.” [Running time: about 11 minutes]


Julius Chambers (R) is pictured with James Ferguson, his long-time law partner in a practice in Charlotte, N.C. (Ferguson Stein photo)

Julius Chambers (R) is pictured with James Ferguson, his long-time law partner in a practice in Charlotte, N.C. (Ferguson Stein photo)

Julius Chambers was born Oct. 6, 1936, in Mount Gilead, the son of William “Shine” Chambers and Mathilda Braton Chambers. In 1948, 12-year-old Julius Chambers witnessed an injustice leveled at his father, when a Montgomery County man refused to pay for work done on a truck. Shine Chambers could not find a lawyer to help him seek a judgment against the customer, and the resulting financial loss meant Julius Chambers would not be able to attend high school in Laurinburg, as planned. Instead, Chambers attended Peabody High School in Troy, then went on to North Carolina Central University, graduating summa cum laude with an undergraduate degree in history.

He later earned a graduate degree in history from the University of Michigan and in 1959 started law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, he was the first African American editor-in-chief of the school’s law review, the first African American to gain membership in the Order of the Golden Fleece, which is the University’s highest honor society, and he graduated at the top of his class of 100 students in 1962.

Chambers went on to earn his Masters of Law degree from Columbia University Law School, and he was chosen by Thurgood Marshall to be the first intern for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1963-64.

In mid-1964, Julius Chambers opened a law office in Charlotte, and the firm later became the first racially-integrated legal practice in the state. He argued several important civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education school busing case in 1971, and the Griggs v. Duke Power Co. case in 1971 and Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody in 1975, both dealing with employment discrimination addressed under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Chambers was the target of car bombs, and he and others in Charlotte had their homes and offices burned. Shine Chambers’ shop in Mount Gilead was also burned.

In 1984, Julius Chambers left his Charlotte firm to become director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York. From 1993 to 2001, he served as chancellor of North Carolina Central University, and later returned to his law firm in Charlotte. Throughout his career, he was a lecturer and adjunct professor at law schools across the country, including Harvard, University of Virginia and Columbia, and he authored a number of books and articles on legal issues surrounding civil rights.

Julius Chambers died Aug. 2 following several months of declining health. His wife, Vivian, died in 2012, and two children, three grandchildren and a brother survive.


WMTG can be heard at 88.1 FM in and near Mount Gilead, online at http://www.wmtg.org, and with the TuneIn mobile app. Thanks to the American Bar Association and Julie Brown, Time Warner Cable News 14 Carolina and Jim Newman, UNC-TV and Shannon Vickery, and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and Rick Hutchins for their assistance with this program.

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