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The first installment of Biographical Conversations with Julius Chambers begins with Chambers' remembrances of growing up in racially divided North Carolina, his college years and his beginnings in the civil rights movement.
Born in Mount Gilead, North Carolina, in 1936, Chambers grew up amid the racism of the Jim Crow-era South. One of the defining moments of Chambers' life came early , when his father's auto repair business became a target of racial injustice in 1948 . Because of this experience Chambers vowed to make a difference- pursuing a career that would help end the inequalities of segregation and discrimination. He graduated high school the same month as the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling and entered North Carolina College (now NC Central University). In 1959, Chambers continued his commitment to education as one of only a handful of African American students admitted to the School of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He quickly made his mark, becoming the first African American editor-in-chief of the law review and graduating first in his class.
Fifteen years after the pivotal childhood event that set him on a course toward his civil rights career, Thurgood Marshall selected Chambers as the first intern of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Just a year later, Chambers opened the first integrated law firm in North Carolina. "The experience [with the LDF] exposed me to real practice of law.I hadn't had anything like that in law school," admits Chambers. "That is how one might develop legal theories to deal with unexpected and unusual situations."
Part two of Biographical Conversations with.Julius Chambers , deals with many unexpected and unusual situations Chambers faced in his career-including the legal legend's recollections of his hand in landmark civil rights litigation and overcoming the adversity and challenges faced during his life-long work.
Chambers' firm, Chambers, Stein, Ferguson, and Atkins, became instrumental in the civil rights movement, influencing more landmark state and federal legislation in school desegregation, employment and voting rights than any other in the United States. The firm shaped civil rights law by winning benchmark United States Supreme Court rulings in famous decisions such as Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education , which led to federally mandated busing, while continuing the crusade to integrate public schools across the country. Chambers and his team also won in two of the Supreme Court's most monumental Title VII employment discrimination decisions, Griggs v. Duke Power Co. and Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody .
Throughout the 1960s and '70s, Chambers' work to gain equality for African Americans, combined with the South's inflamed racial attitudes, resulted in frequent threats to his life. He recalls a time when his home was firebombed, his office torched and his own son's life was threatened. "I don't know how we escaped bodily harm, except by the grace of God," says Chambers.
Yet he endured these traumatic experiences, emerging as one of the most successful and admired civil rights lawyers in America. During this time Chambers' unfailing commitment to education continued with a term on the UNC Board of Governors and tenure as chancellor of North Carolina Central University.
In the conclusion of Biographical Conversations with... Julius Chambers, the civil rights leader recounts his ascent to the helm of North Carolina Central University as its chancellor, his battle with cancer and his thoughts on the future of civil rights.
Throughout the 1970s and '80s, Chambers continued to fight for civil rights legislation and affirmative action programs as director-counsel of the NAACP LDF. Yet he remained devoted to education and in 1993, returned to his alma mater where he served as NCCU chancellor for eight years. Chambers has published numerous books, continues teaching at various law schools and remains a member of many boards and organizations. In this final episode, the unflappable civil rights activist discusses his passionate, four decades-long crusade for equality and the future of the movement to which he has dedicated his life.