Against All Odds

Defending black students’ education rights was Julius Chamber’s first landmark case, but certainly not his last.

Defending black students’ education rights was Julius Chamber’s first landmark case, but certainly not his last.

In 1971, a young Julius Chambers stood before the U.S. Supreme Court, ready to defend black students’ right to equal educational opportunity.

Sixteen years had passed since Brown v. The Board of Education declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional, but in Charlotte, most black students remained in historically black schools in the city center, unable to travel to the wealthier, white majority schools on the outskirts of town. As Chambers saw it, public schools were still separate and not equal.

So, Chambers would argue before the highest court in the United States that racial imbalance in schools was itself a form of segregation.

The odds were stacked against him. Although he had graduated first in his class from Carolina’s School of Law in 1962, he was only 34 years old — still relatively new to the establishment.

Against all odds, Chambers would win.

It was his first landmark case, but certainly not his last.

When the world lost Chambers in 2013, a fellow School of Law alumnus said, “They don’t make lawyers, or human beings, any finer than [Chambers].”

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