Students, staff, parents and community members celebrated the renaming of Zebulon B. Vance High to Julius L. Chambers High at a ceremony on July 14. Nearly 40 of Chambers' family members were also in attendance.
"I've been counting down the days to this event from the time the board announced the school would be renamed after my father," said Derrick Chambers. "I woke up this morning with tears of joy. It lets me know that what my father dedicated his life to was not in vain. Everyone in this room and beyond has benefited from his work in one way or another."
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education voted Oct. 13 to rename Vance, which was named for a lawyer and Confederate military officer who was twice elected governor of North Carolina and served in the U.S. Senate. Vance came from a wealthy Buncombe County family that owned slaves.
Chambers, who died in 2013, founded the first integrated law firm in the state. His firm brought several landmark cases that shaped civil rights laws in North Carolina and the nation, including the Swann case involving the use of busing to desegregate schools. Chambers appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in eight cases, winning every time. He also exhibited great personal courage, persisting in his legal work and civil rights activism despite having his house, his car and his office firebombed several times.
Derrick Chambers described his father as a humble, quiet man of action who loved his family. He asked that past, present and future students read about his father's works and deeds to be inspired to accomplish their goals and dreams.
"My grandpa was like another dad to me. He was involved in my life, leading and guiding me. We also had fun together," said Miles Chambers. "He was a regular guy to me. Knowing the history of our family name and the legacy he has left fills me with pride."
The ceremony also included remarks from Dr. Ruby Jones, District 3 representative for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education; Superintendent Earnest Winston; Board Chairperson Elyse Dashew; U.S. Rep. Dr. Alma Adams and Principal Erik Turner.
Turner will be the first principal of Julius L. Chambers High and has a special connection to the new name.
"Chambers was my chancellor at North Carolina Central University. I would have never imagined when I walked across that stage in Durham on May 6, 1998, when I received my degree from him, that I would one day have the privilege to serve in a school with his namesake," said Turner.
The ceremony also featured a video presentation highlighting Julius Chambers' career in his own words. Two students debuted the school's new graduation caps and gowns. Courses in law and justice, public safety and The Cambridge International Programme will be available in the fall.
"Though I did not know Julius Chambers, I stand here today as a direct beneficiary of the work he did to dismantle systemic racism and ensure opportunity for all public school students," Winston said. "If not for the work of Chambers and others who shared his dedication, passion and relentless work, someone who looks like me would be unlikely to be leading this district. The work he started continues. It is my commitment to see that racism in all forms has no place in our district. That all our students have the opportunity to succeed, to learn and are prepared for college and career."