2004 Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumni Award
Julius L. Chambers ’62 (LLBJD)
It is clear that Julius Chambers is passionate about education.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from North CarolinaCentralUniversity summa cum laude, a master’s in history from the University of Michigan and a law degree from Carolina.
He served as the chancellor of N.C. Central for eight years ending in 2001, where he restored the university’s credibility and laid the groundwork for unprecedented fundraising.
He is the director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and has been a lecturer at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, and at HarvardUniversity.
But what would be two lifetimes of achievement for most folks is not even half the story of Julius Chambers, and education is but one of his passions.
Julius is one of the country’s foremost civil rights attorneys. He grew up in Mount Gilead, North Carolina, under the indignity of Jim Crow. There, at age 12, he decided that he would spend his life fighting for equality and fairness.
Unquestionably, he has been just such a fighter. But Julius is one who overwhelms you with his fluency in the law and with his deep-rooted morality rather than with a raised voice or theatrical gesture. He carries his considerable accomplishments with humility and grace that are just as much to be envied.
Here at Carolina, he graduated No. 1 in the 1962 law class. He edited the North Carolina Law Review, the first African-American to do so at a historically white Southern law school.
“I was exposed to a number of schoolmates who became the leaders of the legal profession,” he says of his studies at Carolina. “I gained experience working with and opposing them. That helped me as I went about my work with the Civil Rights Movement.”
With the support of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Julius founded a law firm in Charlotte in 1966 that began challenging racial discrimination. Soon afterward, his house was bombed with those of other Charlotte civil rights figures, and his car was blown up. His law office burned down, and so did his father’s automotive repair shop.
Julius was undeterred in his work.
He told Julian Bond in an interview, “For me … it was the feeling that these are things that one will likely experience in trying to effect change.”
Julius served as his firm’s managing partner for two decades. He made it the state’s first racially integrated legal practice. He argued several cases before the United States Supreme Court. He was the lead attorney in the landmark case that led to busing to desegregate public schools across the nation.
In 1984, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund made him counselor-director in New York, its top executive post.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court again, in 1995, Julius helped argue a North Carolina congressional redistricting case that led to the election of the first minority congressional representatives since Reconstruction.
Now, since retiring as NCCU chancellor, Julius has returned to practice at his old firm. As we award him the Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumni Award, we cannot imagine what he might accomplish next.
We are certain he is not finished.