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Biographical Details of Leadership
Contemporary Lens on Black Leadership
Historical Focus on Race
Though his unflappability is legendary, civil rights activist Julius LeVonne Chambers led a very passionate crusade for American equality throughout the past four decades. Born in Mount Gilead, North Carolina, in 1936, Chambers grew up amid the racism of the Jim Crow South. At the age of twelve, he determined that he would pursue a career that would help end the inequalities of segregation and discrimination.
Fifteen years later, after graduating first in his law class at the University of North Carolina and receiving a master's of law degree from Columbia University, Chambers was selected by Thurgood Marshall to be an intern with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). With the LDF's support, he established the first integrated law firm in Charlotte, North Carolina, and furthered the work of dismantling segregation.
He argued the landmark Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case before the Supreme Court, winning a favorable ruling for federally mandated busing to desegregate public schools. During this time, Chambers and his firm also filed numerous employment discrimination cases leading to key Supreme Court decisions in Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971) and Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody (1975). He endured the firebombing of his offices, his car, and two bomb explosions in his home. He refused to be intimidated.
In 1984, Chambers was nationally recognized for his civil rights leadership and appointed director-counsel of the LDF. For eight years, Chambers guided the LDF through a conservative backlash against affirmative action and civil rights legislation, while initiating educational programs to support both minorities and the economic underclass.
Education continued to be the central focus of Chambers' advocacy. In 1992, Chambers became chancellor of his undergraduate alma mater, North Carolina Central University, a position he held until his retirement in 2001. He continued to practice law with the firm Ferguson, Chambers and Sumter, PA handling business matters, employment discrimination, and various civil rights cases. He maintained close ties to UNCC's School of Law and served as director of the Center for Civil Rights.
Julius Chambers died on August 2, 2013.