Sunday, August 4, 2013

Julius Chambers: October 6, 1936 – August 2, 2013

Julius Chambers
I heard the news of Julius Chambers' death in the early hours of Saturday morning. The first time that I met Julius, I was tongue-tied. He was a personal hero and I was awed to be in his presence. He shook my hand and murdered the pronunciation of my first name. I repeated my name for him and he smiled and nodded. I was a part of a group of attorneys testifying before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission on the impact of high stakes testing on minority students. Those of us involved continued to meet after our appearance before the commission to discuss strategies for improving the delivery of education services to minority students in North Carolina. Chambers was the catalyst for getting the group going. At that time, he was the director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, founded in 2001 by Chambers at the UNC School of Law. 

As I got to know Chambers, my hero worship grew. He was brilliant in his knowledge of the law. He was also charming, had a great sense of humor, and totally unassuming.  This was the man who was responsible for perhaps the single most significant factor in moving school integration from just words in the 1955 Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision to reality. It was Chambers' Swann lawsuit that ultimately resulted in court ordered busing which facilitated school integration. The 1971 ruling in the Swann vs. the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case mandated cross-town busing to end segregation of local schools. It led to the 1971 Supreme Court ruling that allowed school districts to bus students to desegregate schools to achieve racial balance.

My fondest memory of Julius is of a dinner to celebrate the anniversary (can't recall which one) of the opening of the UNC Center for Civil Rights. I invited my Dad to be my escort, knowing that he would be thrilled to meet Julius. What I didn't know was that I was one of the guests whom Julius planned to introduce to the other attendees. I sat at my table, chatting with my dad who was in ecstasy because he had engaged in a lengthy cocktail hour chat with Bill Friday who had served for three decades as president of the University of North Carolina System. 

Julius began by announcing that he had some special guests whom he wished to introduced. He named an individual, provided a brief bio, and noted the person's contributions to the fight for civil rights for all people. He began my introduction by announcing that he didn't dare call my full name because he might mispronounce it and I would loudly correct him in front of everyone. He alleged that he had been forced to call me Ms. Reid all the years that he had known me because he wasn't allowed to say my first name. I was laughing so hard that I gave myself the hiccups while my bewildered father looked embarrassed that his daughter had dared be so sassy with Julius Chambers. Julius gave me a big innocent smile as I briefly stood to acknowledge the intro. He'd waited a few years but he had finally paid me back for my chutzpah in correcting him when we first met. 

The world will miss his presence. 

5 comments:

Ken Riches said...

Awww, sorry for your loss. Loved the story!

Sheria Reid said...

Thank you, Ken.

Lisa :-] said...

He was obviously an extraordinary man. A life well-lived always seems to end too soon. I'm sorry for your loss; it was also a loss for all of us.

Sheria Reid said...

Thank you, Lisa.

Christel said...

Awesome!