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Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Charlotte Observer newspaper on April 21, 1971.
The archived news print page does not show any signatures. The author recounts Julius Chambers’ reaction to his legal victory in the United States Supreme Court in the desegregation case Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.
Julius Chambers has waited a long time
When Reverend Coleman Kerry first briefed Julius Chambers on Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling in the Charlotte School case, Chambers did not say a word.
So Kerry – Chambers’ minister and a former school board member – tried again.
This time the lawyer simply said, “This is great.”
But later he admitted he was “thrilled” and he told one of his associates – in his deliberately offhand manner – “I guess you know this decision was unanimous. And the opinion was written by Burger. We sold the Chief Justice, ”he said with a shy smile.
The long-awaited decision came on a day when Chambers had a week-long cold. He spoke more quietly than usual and admitted that he “might give in and go see a doctor.”
In his office, the intercom was constantly buzzing with congratulatory calls and exclusive interview requests. By mid-afternoon, there had been about 50 calls in all. The office was quiet, however, with only three of the firm’s seven lawyers in town.
Chambers grumbled about all the reporters’ questions and scowled at the microphone a TV reporter put around his neck, but he patiently answered their questions.
The Chambers may have waited for this day longer than many imagined. Although this officially Swann v. The Board of Education was started in 1964, its roots go back to the high school of the lawyer.
His final year in high school meant a bus ride to Troy – a 24 mile round trip – so he could attend a consolidated high school there. Looking out the window, he saw high schools for white students. The black boy was not allowed in these schools. This was in 1953 and it would be another year before the Supreme Court of the United States ruled “Separate is not equal”.
Eight years later, he was appointed one of the first two interns of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He has worked on civil rights cases in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.
Chambers said on Tuesday that he did not yet view the court’s latest decision as a landmark decision because “we like to think that it reaffirms what the tribunal said in 54. Of course, a landmark decision is a decision that is made. interpretation. If this decision serves as a catalyst to desegregate the North … then maybe it will be a milestone … but I haven’t seen the text. I don’t know if it will have that effect or not.
He said William Booe – another lawyer, opposing Chambers and newly elected school board member – called Tuesday a “dark day for America,” Chambers refuted.
“It’s a beautiful day. The tribunal paved the way for the implementation … of what black people have struggled for centuries … this is one of the greatest opportunities for blacks to achieve their goals … to enjoy rights that most Americans have for years.
But with winning comes more work.
The ruling may also affect the affairs of Chambers in Winston-Salem, Greenville and Wilson, and possibly Wilmington. (The decision upheld Judge James B. McMillan’s order to bus students through town to achieve racial balance.)
Chambers and his firm, Chambers, Stein, Ferguson and Lanning, represent the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 32 school desegregation lawsuits in North Carolina.
“There are 20 or 25 textbook cases that need to be heard by August,” Ms. Chambers said on Tuesday. “But making them heard isn’t really the problem. Finding someone to work out a plan, that is. “
Chambers said he would have preferred an educator from North Carolina to devise a desegregation plan in Charlotte’s case, but had to travel all the way to Rhode Island to find someone willing to tackle to the controversial issue, Dr. John A. Finger.
He said he thought most of the people in this city and the country wanted to obey the law. “I hope that now the community can work together to give our children the school system they deserve.”
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