Julius Chambers: A Life in the Legal Struggle for Civil Rights

Julius Chambers: A Life in the Legal Struggle for Civil Rights

Julius Chambers: A Life in the Legal Struggle for Civil Rights

Julius Chambers: A Life in the Legal Struggle for Civil Rights


Born in the hamlet of Mount Gilead, North Carolina, Julius Chambers (1936-2013) escaped the fetters of the Jim Crow South to emerge in the 1960s and 1970s as the nation's leading African American civil rights attorney. Following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Chambers worked to advance the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's strategic litigation campaign for civil rights, ultimately winning landmark school and employment desegregation cases at the U.S. Supreme Court. Undaunted by the dynamiting of his home and the arson that destroyed the offices of his small integrated law practice, Chambers pushed federal civil rights law to its highwater mark.

In this biography, Richard A. Rosen and Joseph Mosnier connect the details of Chambers's life to the wider struggle to secure racial equality through the development of modern civil rights law. Tracing his path from a dilapidated black elementary school to counsel's lectern at the Supreme Court and beyond, they reveal Chambers's singular influence on the evolution of federal civil rights law after 1964.


Born in the midst of the Great Depression in rural North Carolina, Julius LeVonne Chambers grew up to become one of the most important figures in the national campaign to dismantle the legal structure of American segregation. Looking back at his beginnings, it is difficult to believe that he could even have become a lawyer, much less a major figure in the battle to dismantle American apartheid. Yet, overcoming obstacle after obstacle, Julius Chambers would achieve great success, first in the world of higher education, where he would outpace his fellow students in both segregated and integrated milieus, and then in the courtroom, where he would help change the face of North Carolina and the nation.

Although Julius Chambers was a lawyer, and his most notable accomplishments were legal victories, the scope of this book reaches far more widely than the law. It is of necessity as much about the times as about the person. Those who leave a mark on the world around them can be truly understood only in the context of their historical moment. As much as the circumstances of Julius Chambers’s childhood circumscribed his opportunities, he came of age just as the United States was beginning to undergo a radical shift. He began his professional career in the tumultuous midcentury years of the civil rights movement. These were incredible times for anyone interested in challenging the prevailing racial hierarchy in the United States. For those like Chambers, possessed of skill and determination sufficient to effect change in our nation’s racial hierarchy, this was a moment of unparalleled opportunity.

Julius Chambers’s legal career began in the summer of 1963, when the organization that had long led the legal campaign to dismantle Jim Crow, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), chose him as its first civil rights intern. After working with LDF for a year in New York, Chambers returned to North Carolina, setting up his law practice in July of 1964. From that moment on, the very qualities that had personified Julius Chambers ever since he was a young child—his superior intellect, his willingness to aim high, his fierce determination to reach his goals, and his indefatigable capacity to work—would enable him to emerge as a leading figure in the national civil rights campaign. Working for three years as a solo practitioner out of a cold-

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