The N.C. NAACP has over 24,000 members in over 100 branches across the State. Julius Chambers, who died Friday night, must have represented hundreds of them, knew thousands of them, and changed the lives of all of them by his steadfast life of justice.
We pick up Brother Chambers’ strong spirit to speak soft but direct truths to the same regressive policies and their authors who are determined to take us back to the ugly past of segregation, deprivation and division of the 1950s. Our leader, friend, brother and mentor, Julius Chambers, fought his whole life against these ugly policies.
We can learn much from his low-key, but militant approach to the duty of our generation: to complete the work of dismantling the structural and psychological racism that grips our society. Let me review a few of the highlights of Atty. Chambers 76 years of struggle, with the hope that our branches and other enlightened people will take the time to learn more about this North Carolina giant.
• He knew no fear. He never took one step backward, always marching forward together, directly into the ugly ignorance and violence against him by white racist vigilantes who torched his car, his law office, his father’s business in Mt. Gilead, and dynamited his law office.
• He won eight for eight in U.S. Supreme Court cases – fighting for a fully integrated society and schools that would carry out the mandate of the great 1954 victory of the NAACP legal team, led by Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall, to eliminate racial segregation in public schools.
• In 1964, just two years out of law school, he set up the first integrated law practice in North Carolina in Charlotte, suing 35 school systems and 20 businesses who were scoffing at the new laws won by the 1950-60s movement. • In 1984, with 20 years of experience in the courtroom’s struggles to achieve justice, Attorney Chambers went back to New York to direct the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He had the same job of one of his heroes, Thurgood Marshall, who had become the first African American Supreme Court Justice, serving through 1991. In an ironic twist, rather than appointing Chambers who had followed in Marshall’s footsteps and had breathed life into many of the victories of Marshall for 27 years, the first President Bush filled Marshall’s big shoes with a man who had virtually no experience in southern courtrooms, Clarence Thomas.
• In 1993, the President of the 16-campuses of UNC brought Chambers back to North Carolina as the Chancellor of NC Central University, where he served for eight years. Chambers helped NCCU get on firm financial footing, leaving the university with twice as much research grants, scholarship funds, and fourteen times as many endowed chairs than when he arrived.
• In 2001, he returned to his old law firm in Charlotte, where he continued to practice law, taking big and small cases alike until the last few months of his life. He also teamed up with an old friend, Jack Boger who was a law professor at UNC-CH, and became a founder and first director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, where scores of lawyers are learning the art of challenging race discrimination in the courts.
Submitted by the Rev. William J. Barber, II, president, on behalf of the N.C. NAACP.