The tributes to civil rights hero Julius Chambers (whose funeral will take place tomorrow in Charlotte) have been pouring in from many places. Click here to read Monday’s Charlotte Observer editorial.
Another one worth your time is this one by veteran Raleigh journalist and commentator Barlow Herget:
Julius Chambers passing by
There’s a scene in the classic movie, “To Kill a Mockingbird” where the black Reverend Sykes is sitting in the segregated balcony of the courthouse at the end of the trial.
When Atticus Finch is leaving the courtroom, Mr. Sykes rises as do all the blacks. He tells Finch’s tomboy daughter Scout who is sitting with the minister to stand. She asks, “Why?”
“Because your father’s passing by,” replies Reverend Sykes.
All North Carolina should rise at the “passing” of Julius Chambers.
Mr. Chambers died Friday last week at age 76. He was a Charlotte lawyer and former chancellor of North Carolina Central University. He was not an eloquent preacher like Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior, but he is as close to Dr. King as North Carolina’s going to find.
I met Mr. Chambers on one or two occasions, and he was soft spoken and polite even though he was a legend by that time. In the courtroom, he was fierce and dogged. He argued eight civil rights cases—eight—all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He won all eight.
He was first in his class at the Law School of the University of North Carolina, and he was the first black editor of the school’s Law Review.
It took six pages for the Charlotte Observer to recount his accomplishments, including the historic Swann-Charlotte/Mecklenburg School System case that integrated all of the system’s public schools.
But what struck me as a historian was the very real dangers he and his family faced during his non-violent fight for civil rights. Reading old newspaper and magazine clips, I better appreciated his bravery.
The state during those times was electric with tensions and anger and hatred. Most people expected violence on any day. Mr. Chambers was giving a speech in New Bern after filing the Swann suit, and his car outside suddenly was bombed and destroyed.
Another night, after he had filed suit to integrate the Shriner’s high school football game, his home was bombed with dynamite while he and his wife were sleeping. Think about that.
How many of us, after two bombings, one aimed not only at you but your family, would continue to fight?
His response to the car bombing defined the man and his career. He told a frightened colleague who asked frantically, what are we going to do? He said, “We’re going to go back inside and finish the meeting.”
That’s what Julius Chambers did with his life in a dangerous and historic times. Whether it was going to college, becoming a successful lawyer, winning civil rights cases, raising university standards, tending his family, Julius Chambers finished the job.
And North Carolina is a better place for it. All rise.