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,
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.