When Julius LeVonne Chambers shook the foundations of intolerance with U.S. Supreme Court cases to force school system desegregation in Charlotte, opponents bombed his car.
That didn’t stop him.
A civil rights lawyer who also fought employment discrimination, Chambers saw his home and office bombed by enemies too.
That didn’t stop him, either.
Jack Boger, dean of UNC School of Law, knew of Chambers’ work when Boger was still a law student at UNC in the 1970s. He met Chambers in person for the first time while working at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
“I was certainly aware of all that great work and aware as well of the courage he showed,” Boger told The Herald-Sun’s April Dudash. “They tried to fight him away, they firebombed his home, they burned his office down …. None of that deterred him or made him angry or vindictive. He was a remarkably decent and determined person to bring about the kind of racial reconciliation, racial integration, that he so believed in.”
Chambers, who served as chancellor of N.C. Central University from 1993-2001, died on Friday at age 76.
In his time, he fought for desegregation in North Carolina’s public schools and pushed for higher admittance rates of black students in predominantly white universities. The Mt. Gilead native grew up in an era when black students were denied the right to attend school with white children. He had wanted to attend UNC Chapel Hill in the mid-1950s, but racial prejudice blocked his way. So he gained a master’s degree at the University of Michigan and then, when UNC began accepting black students, Chambers earned a fellowship to the School of Law.
He opened the first integrated law practice in North Carolina and served as director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Chambers didn’t want the fight to end with his generation. He led UNC’s Center for Civil Rights, where young law students could learn about racial and economic injustices.
He’s gone now, a great loss, but his remarkable legacy remains. This doesn’t stop what he believed.
In a 1997 speech, Chambers told students: “Many years ago, we defined [civil rights] as the rights of African Americans to get equal opportunities in life. Now we have to broaden that focus and talk about the rights of all people, regardless of race, creed, economic condition or sexual preference.”
The work continues. We can’t let this loss stop us. We should not be deterred.