Julius Chambers’ legacy

August 5, 2013 

Julius Chambers died Friday at 76, yet in North Carolina he is everywhere alive.

What the pioneering civil rights lawyer did in his allotted time endures beyond him. By helping to knock down walls of segregation in Charlotte schools and schools across the nation, he opened the future for many minorities today. He took eight cases to the Supreme Court – including the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools case – and won every one.

As chancellor for eight years of his alma mater, N.C. Central University, he helped many African-Americans to see and achieve their full potential.

What Chambers did was about more than race relations and civil rights. What he accomplished served people of all races, especially the young. Chambers inspired through his dedication to justice under the law and his courage in the face of efforts to make him turn from that commitment. His home was bombed, his car torched and his office set on fire. But he resisted the temptation to hate in return.

“The animosity toward him and his positions was just heavy and real. You could feel it,” C.D. Spangler, former UNC president, told The Charlotte Observer. “But he never let that change him personally. … He didn’t hate the people who hated him.”

Across North Carolina and beyond, the legacy of Julius LeVonne Chambers is reflected in others’ lives.

U.S. Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte, who is President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said Chambers advised him as a young man to come back to North Carolina after he finished Yale Law School.

In a 2007 interview, Watt recalled the conversation this way: “Chambers said, ‘You have an offer right here, and you can make an impact. Here you can help the people you grew up with. And rather than separating yourself from them, you can bring them along with you.’ That was a compelling, powerfully persuasive argument.”

And it’s a compellingly powerful epitaph for a man who brought so many along with him.

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