Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People

BOND: Chancellor Chambers, let me begin by asking if you can talk a bit about the influence your father had on the development of your personality and your eventual career. Tell us about him.

CHAMBERS: Well, my father did not have the opportunity to complete high school or college, but was insistent on all of his children getting a college degree. And he didn't have a lot of money, and he worked hard to make sure that we could get into a good school and could get a degree and get out and become competitive. He worked as a mechanic and began with my older brother, sending us away from college and sending him away to the boarding school, Laurinburg Institute. He wanted all of his children to go to Laurinburg Institute. And then he made sure that we all went away to college. That educational emphasis was a major part of his teaching. He also taught us how to respect others and how to fight to ensure that the rights of others were protected. And I think those three principles were things that I gained from my father that I never forgot.

BOND: Did he teach by example? There is a story that you tell about him being not paid for a job he had done by a white man which frustrated his ability to send you to Laurinburg Institute. What lesson did you learn there, if any?

CHAMBERS: I guess I got a lot out of that, and I will never forget it. And he wanted to send me away to Laurinburg Institute as well and had done some work for a white citizen there in my hometown and wanted to collect for that work. And the gentleman decided not to pay and he didn't pay. So my father had to come home to tell me and the family that he didn't have the money to send me away to school. And he also told us that he was trying to find a lawyer to collect, that he couldn't find a lawyer in North Carolina who would bring a lawsuit to try to collect the money from this person. And it was with that that I decided that I would go to law school to try to provide some assistance for black people who were experiencing the same kind of thing in the South.

BOND: Now what other figures in your youth – teachers, ministers – what other figures influenced you in any kind of way?

CHAMBERS: I had some good teachers who influenced me. One was an elementary school teacher, whom I will always admire, who is dead. One was a high school teacher. I had several good teachers in college. One was Helen Edmonds —

BOND: Oh, sure.

CHAMBERS: — whom you know. And another was Culvert Jones. And then in law school I had a dean who was very strong in insisting on the rights of people. And I never will forget Henry Brandis who served in that role, and he was a great influence on my life as well.

BOND: And after Jack Greenberg, Thurgood Marshall, and on. We want to come back to this, but I mean, have there been a succession of figures that in one way or the other influenced you to do this, do that, or behave in a particular way?

CHAMBERS: There have been a number of people who influenced my thinking and my life beyond college and law school. And you mentioned Thurgood and Jack Greenberg were two, and there really were several others, several of the cooperating attorneys around. I remember we were just talking about Don Hollowell and C. B. King. There was Leon Higginbotham, Bill Cullen, among others. And they had a great impact on me.