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Julius L. Chambers
Julius L. Chambers Julius L. Chambers


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NAACP Legal Defense Fund, New York City, intern, 1963-64; Harvard University Law School, lecturer, 1965; University of Virginia Law School, guest lecturer, 1971-72; University of Pennsylvania School of Law, lecturer, 1972--; Chambers, Stein, Ferguson, and Becton (law firm), Charlotte, NC, 1964-1984; Legal Defense Fund, president, 1975-1984, director-council, 1984-- Member of the American Bar Association Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities and the National Bar Association Commission on Equal Employment Opportunities When he graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1962, Julius Chambers declared, as quoted in the Afro American, "I will work for civil rights for colored persons I think it is an obligation that I have to do so" From the beginning of his career as a lawyer, he has fought for civil rights for black Americans, but the court decisions he has won have had an effect on all people Chambers is director-council of the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), an NAACP (National As-Zsociation for the Advancement of Colored People) affiliate organization set up in the 1950s to challenge racial discrimination as a constitutional issue As director-council, he has argued cases that have gained rights for blacks, women, the disabled, and other minorities In a New York Times article, Jack Greenberg, Chambers's predecessor as the LDF's director, described Chambers as an effective and, above all, dedicated leader Chambers was born in 1936 and grew up in North Carolina Having been raised in the segregated South, he dedicated himself at a young age to the fight for civil rights.

His decision came when he was twelve and his father was cheated by a white man "My father [who owned his own garage and service station] could not get a lawyer to take his case," he said in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor "A white man owed him more than $2,000 for fixing his tractor-trailer truck, but refused to pay That was too much money for a black man to ask from a white man No lawyer would represent my father in court" Chambers was outraged at this blatant case of racism "It wasn't right," he told the New York Times, "I decided right then to pursue a career that would change it" Chambers followed this dream throughout his education He attended North Carolina Central University, where he received a BA degree in history; he went to the University of Michigan on scholarship, earned a master's degree, and then entered law school During his final year in law school, he became the first black person to serve as editor-in-chief of the North Carolina Law Review.

In 1961, he graduated first in his class He then attended Columbia University, receiving a master's of law degree in 1963 That year, the Legal Defense Fund instituted an internship program to give young lawyers experience with civil rights cases; Chambers was their first intern In 1964, Chambers moved back to North Carolina and established the first integrated law practice in Charlotte From the outset he concentrated on civil rights cases "I wanted to play some role in eliminating the barriers that prevented black citizens from participating as equals in American society," he told Black Enterprise He was particularly concerned with the segregated schools of his city One of his first cases involved a school desegregation suit that eventually went to the US Supreme Court.

In 1954, the Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools A decade later, the all-white board of education in Charlotte decided to close several schools rather than integrate them Black students were denied admission into white schools Chambers, citing the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, filed Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education on behalf of one student who had been denied admission In 1971, after years of local and state-level litigation, Chambers argued this landmark case in front of the Supreme Court The favorable ruling opened the way for busing to be used to desegregate schools During his years in Charlotte, Chambers built a considerable reputation for his success in civil rights cases Not everyone in town was pleased, however Crowds demonstrated in front of his house.

His law offices were burned, and in 1965, his home was bombed But slowly Chambers won over the city, and in the early 1980s, the community leaders in Charlotte turned out in large numbers for a testimonial dinner in his honor The LDF's impact was immense from the start Early LDF lawyers argued cases to integrate schools, police forces, and fire departments The first director-council, Thurgood Marshall, went on to become the first black man to sit on the Supreme Court One of his initial LDF cases was the groundbreaking Brown v Board of Education of Topeka suit in 1954 The court's decision overturned the separate-but-equal doctrine that had allowed school segregation for generations In the early 1960s under the directorship of Jack Greenberg, the LDF began to enlarge the scope of its activities Internship and scholarship programs were instituted--Chambers was the first such LDF intern--and the LDF began to sponsor research, examining and documenting the disproportionately large number of capital punishment sentences handed to black offenders and studying the effects of crime and poverty on minority communities.

Litigation was still the organization's main activity, however The 24 staff lawyers and four hundred cooperating attorneys maintained an active load of more than one thousand cases at a time: voting rights, capital punishment, employment, housing, and prison rights were all issues dealt with by the LDF In 1975, Chambers was elected president of the Legal Defense Fund; nine years later he was appointed director-council His goals remained the same: to further equality and fight discrimination against all minority groups His involvement in legal litigation continued as well As council to the LDF, he has argued cases involving pay bias against women; racial discrimination in employment; school desegregation; federal regulation of institutions that discriminate against women, minorities, and the handicapped; and individual discrimination disputes As director-council, Chambers serves as the voice of the civil rights movement in America At every opportunity he makes clear the continuing need for fighting discrimination "We are trying to help people appreciate that there are still major problems in society today," Chambers said in Ebony, "and that we have not yet removed the yoke that Blacks have had to operate under from slavery to the present" In the late 1980s, as the US Supreme Court took on an increasingly conservative bent, Chambers's job became more difficult.

The conservative justices of the Court who were appointed by Presidents Reagan and Bush began to disable earlier civil rights decisions Their rulings included some that revoked protection against racial harassment and others that made it more difficult for victims to prove discrimination Chambers began to speak out against these decisions, urging civil rights groups to lobby Congress for a legislative response to the Court's actions "We have to defend what we have gained," he told the Michigan Chronicle "We can try to isolate ourselves from those less fortunate, but there will always be something holding us back until all our people are given their full rights" Under Chambers's directorship, the Legal Defense Fund began new programs and activities while maintaining those established earlier An educational campaign was initiated to heighten awareness of the influence and effects of the US Justice Department A school curriculum was designed to sensitize students to the effects of discrimination.

And assistance was provided to help small local civil rights groups organize into larger, more unified coalitions Alone and with the Legal Defense Fund, Chambers has accomplished a great deal, and his efforts have benefited not just certain minority groups, but everyone He continues to speak out at rallies and conventions, and in print, every chance he gets As he said in Black Enterprise about his earliest case in Charlotte, "Following our victory in Swann, white and black citizens of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County joined together to make desegregation work The results were dramatic and significant Today Charlotte is a better place to live for blacks and whites alike" He is happy about the progress that has been made When asked by Ebony to predict the state of race relations in the year 2000, he speculated: "There has been progress since Brown improved educational and employment opportunities for minorities and the movement of significant numbers of Blacks into non-traditional areas These changes have enabled people to appreciate the .

contributions that minorities can make--and have made--to society, thereby helping to dispel the myths and stereotypes of the past I am, therefore, optimistic about the state of race relations in the year 2000" But Chambers realizes his job is not over "We must continue the work that we've been doing for the past 50 years," he concluded in Ebony "The remedies imposed to help minorities overcome 200 years of slavery have not accomplished their goal as of yet There is still a great deal of discrimination in this country.

And we still have work to do" Chambers's record indicates that he is up for the challenge.



 
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