Thursday, August 15, 2013
The civil rights field lost a legend last week with the passing of Julius Chambers. Among too many accomplishments to list, Chambers sucessfully argued Swann, Griggs, and Albemarle Paper before the Supreme Court. He also helped start the first integrated law firm in North Carolina. Chambers was influential in academia as well, serving as chancellor of North Carolina Central University and, later, heading UNC law school's Center for Civil Rights, which continues today. A brief excerpt of UNC's announcement, which is worth a full read:
Chambers was born in 1936 in Mount Gilead, N.C., a small, rural community east of Charlotte. Chambers received his BA degree summa cum laude, from North Carolina Central University (then North Carolina College) and an MA degree in history from the University of Michigan. In 1959 he was admitted to the School of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which had only recently begun admitting African‑American students. Chambers was elected Editor‑in‑Chief of the North Carolina Law Review in his third year, becoming the first African‑American to hold this title at any historically white law school in the South. He graduated in 1962, ranking first in his class of 100 students. Thereafter, he studied and taught at Columbia University Law School while earning an LL.M. degree.
In 1963, Chambers was tapped as the first intern in a new program of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. (LDF), designed to provide promising African-American law graduates with 12 months of training in civil rights litigation. In June 1964, Chambers moved to Charlotte to open a law practice that would eventually became the first integrated law firm in North Carolina history. In its first decade, this law firm did more to influence evolving federal civil rights law than any other private law practice in the United States. Chambers and his founding partners, James E. Ferguson II and Adam Stein, worked with lawyers at LDF to litigate a vast range of civil rights cases that changed the face of the nation.
Chambers and his partners were involved in scores of legal challenges related to school desegregation, employment discrimination, voting rights, health care litigation and related matters. These legal challenges met with fierce resistance in some quarters, resulting in Chambers’ office being firebombed; his home attacked; and his automobile set on fire. Chambers is known for his victories in such high profile cases as the famous Charlotte busing decision Swann v. Charlotte‑Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), and Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971) and Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody (1974), two of the Supreme Court's most significant cases interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, governing employment discrimination.
In 1984, Chambers became Director‑Counsel of the LDF. He was the third LDF director, following ThurgoodMarshall and Jack Greenberg.