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Center Staff Advocate for Chapel Hill Community

The Center for Civil Rights was founded in 2001 at the UNC School of Law under the leadership of then Dean Gene Nichol, Director, Julius L. Chambers '62 (1936-2013) and Deputy Director John Charles "Jack" Boger '74. Dedicated to challenging inequalities that inhibit the potential of minorities and low-income people and communities, the Center has pursued an aggressive social justice agenda that combines litigation, scholarly research, and grassroots activism.

Through its efforts, the Center has impacted the futures of many non-white and low-income communities, built a strong body of research and shaped the legal careers of young civil rights attorneys. Families and communities throughout the state have benefited from the Center's representation in matters related to integration in K-12 education, municipal inclusion and fair and equal representation. In partnership with other civil rights organizations, new and innovative research has been commissioned and disseminated at national conferences and through print publication. The Center's student programs have given over 200 students opportunities to work alongside veteran civil rights attorneys as fellows and interns and as volunteers on pro bono projects.

Julius L. Chambers - Civil Rights Leader and Center for Civil Rights Director

Julius L. Chambers (1936-2013) was the first director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights and served as a visionary and mentor for the Center's staff and friends. Chambers graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1962, first in his class. He served as editor-in-chief of the Law Review and was elected to the Order of the Coif and Order of the Golden Fleece, the highest honorary societies at the university. He taught at Columbia University School of Law while earning his master of law degree in 1964.

In June 1964, Chambers founded a one-person law practice in Charlotte, which became the first integrated law firm in North Carolina. In its first decade, the Ferguson, Stein, and Chambers firm did more to influence evolving federal civil rights law than any other private law practice in the United States. Chambers and his partners, James E. Ferguson II and Adam Stein, worked with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) to help shape the contours of civil rights law by winning landmark United States Supreme Court rulings in such cases as Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971), the famous school busing decision, and Griggs v. Duke Power Co. 401 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971) and Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405 (1975), two of the most significant Title VII employment discrimination decisions.

In 1984, Chambers left the firm to become the third director counsel of the NAACP LDF in New York City, following in the footsteps of Thurgood Marshall and Jack Greenberg. Under his leadership, the LDF became the first line of defense against the political assault on civil rights legislation and affirmative action programs that began in the 1970s and 1980s.

He returned to North Carolina in 1993 to become chancellor of North Carolina Central University, his alma mater, and continued an active civil rights practice. In 1995, Chambers was one of three lawyers who argued Shaw v. Hunt, 517 U.S. 899, 116 S.Ct. 1894, 135 L.Ed.2d 207 (1996) (argued December 5, 1995), a landmark legislative redistricting case.

Chambers retired from his position as chancellor in 2001 and reentered private law practice with Ferguson, Stein and Chambers, where his work included business matters, employment discrimination, education and civil rights. 

View the N.C. Museum of History's Voices for Racial Equity Online Exhibit and learn more about Julius L. Chambers' role in school desegregation in North Carolina. UNC Charlotte Special Collections also holds the Julius L. Chambers Papers series.

Chambers served as chancellor of North Carolina Central University and adjunct professor at the University of Virginia Law School, 1975-1978; the University of Pennsylvania, 1978-1986; Columbia University Law School, 1984-1992; and the University of Michigan Law School, 1985-1992.

Chambers authored: "Beyond Affirmative Action," Capital University Law 37.1 (1998); 1-2; Race and Equality: The Still Unfinished Business of the Warren Court, "The Warren Court: A Retrospective," Ed. Bernard Schwartz, New York, Oxford University Press, 1996: 26-27; Afterward: Racial Equity and Full Citizenship, The Unfinished Agenda, "African Americans and the Living Constitution," Eds. John Hope Franklin and Genna Rae McNeil, Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996: 319-325; "Black Americans and the Courts: Has the Clock Been Turned Back Permanently?" The State of Black America, 1990, New York: National Urban League, Inc. 1990: 9-24; "Adequate Education for All: A Right, An Achievable Goal," Harv. Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 22.1 (1987): 55-74.

Ban on Litigation

In 2017, the UNC Board of Governors passed a ban on litigation, preventing the center from providing legal representation to clients. The center continues to research and identify the structural causes and manifestations of racial and economic inequality that have resulted in the exclusion of low wealth communities of color from avenues of opportunity. By demonstrating the causal connection between contemporary inequality and past discrimination, the center continues to provide the basis for social and legal change and to train future civil rights lawyers to research the causes of inequality.

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