Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Presenting Strategies

BOND: So let me go back to the beginning of your legal career and ask you in the few minutes that we have left, your cases come in, you decide to take or not, or whatever, to represent these people. How did you go about then setting strategies? I don't mean marshalling the legal arguments or writing the briefs or so on, but setting strategies for convincing someone that your client was right or your client had been wronged and that justice ought to prevail? How did you marshal your energies and forces to do that? Is that too broad a question?

CHAMBERS: Well, let me see if I can –

BOND: I know every case is different.

CHAMBERS: Yeah. But I think in the civil rights area we had some major efforts to bring people together and strategies together to try to plan how we were going to approach different problems. In the school area the biggest problem we had in the early stages was to convince black people that they ought to assert their rights. NAACP was very good in this, in going around with mass meetings and bringing people who were scared to death out to talk about the advantages of integrated schools. More recently, the problem is whether we could develop the theory that integrated schools was the best approach for education for the black children in the community. For that you had to really marshal some people, experts and others, to talk about how integration would help advance opportunity of students in education, black students particularly. So convincing a group or marshalling evidence of pulling a case together was a lot more sophisticated than in the early stages.

BOND: So it's not simply a matter of going to court and making the best argument. It's also a matter of rallying community and building up support in the large community for the ideas that you are later going to argue in court. There's a step before you open the doors to the courthouse. Now that's something that I've read that Charles Houston liked to do. But I hadn't realized that later generations did this as well.

CHAMBERS: I think you have to because you would have, in most cases, opposition by black people to some of the things that you were trying to do. And you would want to help as many black people as possible appreciate that the approach was the best approach for black children.

BOND: Now in your role as Chancellor, have you ever had to follow this multi-step process?

CHAMBERS: Oh, yeah.

BOND: You want something done, you can't just or you think you can't just go to people and say here's my idea, let's do it. You have to do more than that?

CHAMBERS: Oh, yeah. Just talking about diversity on the campus. Because there are a lot of black students and black faculty who would like to keep the school as it was. And they dream about an all-black North Carolina Central in 3000. And getting them to appreciate that you won't have the students, or the faculty, or the funding resources, that the Constitution would not permit this or that, requires time and effort. And we have to go through and do it.

BOND: But there must be inevitably at least some people in the end who say, "I don't care what the Constitution says, I don't care about the funding is, I don't care about any of this. I don't want to do it."

CHAMBERS: There are.

BOND: And do you just forget them or do you keep –

CHAMBERS: No, you do as much as you can to convince them and you try to show them and you keep your lines open. And you keep communicating. But you appreciate that you have to do it and that is to communicate. And you also appreciate that not everybody is going to be supporting what you are talking about.

BOND: Well, on that note, thank you for supporting this effort. We much appreciate it. And thank you for being here.

CHAMBERS: Well, thank you very much. Now I can go back down across the country and continue those efforts.

BOND: Well, I hope you have a pleasant trip.

CHAMBERS: Thank you very much.