Center for Civil Rights

Developing the Next Generation of Civil Rights Advocates

The UNC Center for Civil Rights works to dismantle structural racism by researching, identifying and challenging discriminatory policies and practices that have led to the exclusion of low-wealth, non-white families and the underdevelopment of the neighborhoods in which they live. The center uses community-based, high-impact advocacy and outreach to secure social, economic and environmental justice for these communities. The center focuses on elevating families and communities above the boundaries of race, class and place.

The UNC Center for Civil Rights was founded in 2001 by Julius L. Chambers, the former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. (LDF), and former chancellor of North Carolina Central University. The center has risen to national prominence as a bastion for strategic civil rights advocacy. Through innovative research, scholarship and mentoring of young and future attorneys, the center brings attention to injustices across North Carolina and the South and provides action models for advocates, scholars and lawyers across the country. The center’s work focuses on education, environmental justice, equitable access to services, fair housing, and community engagement.

Areas of Research

  • School Integration, Diversity and Equity
  • Environmental Justice
  • Fair Housing
  • Equitable Access to Public Services
  • Civic Engagement

History

The UNC Center for Civil Rights was founded in 2001 under the leadership of then Dean Gene Nichol, Director Julius L. Chambers ’62 (1936-2013) and Deputy Director John Charles “Jack” Boger ’74 with the goal of challenging inequalities that inhibit the potential of minorities and low-income people and communities.

The center has influenced the futures of many non-white and low-income communities, built a strong body of research and shaped the legal careers of young civil rights attorneys. Families and communities throughout the state have benefited from the center’s support in matters related to integration in K-12 education, municipal inclusion and fair and equal representation. In partnership with other civil rights organizations, new and innovative research has been commissioned and disseminated at national conferences and through print publication. Through the center, hundreds of students have had the opportunity to work alongside veteran civil rights attorneys as fellows, interns and volunteers.

The center participated in litigation for many years, but as of 2017 the center no longer provides legal representation to clients.

About Julius L. Chambers ’62

Julius L. Chambers (1936-2013) was the first director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights and served as a visionary and mentor for the center’s staff and friends. Chambers graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1962, first in his class. He served as editor-in-chief of the Law Review and was elected to the Order of the Coif and Order of the Golden Fleece, the highest honorary societies at the university. He taught at Columbia University School of Law while earning his master of law degree in 1964.

In June 1964, Chambers founded a one-person law practice in Charlotte, which became the first integrated law firm in North Carolina. In its first decade, the Ferguson, Stein, and Chambers firm did more to influence evolving federal civil rights law than any other private law practice in the United States. Chambers and his partners, James E. Ferguson II and Adam Stein, worked with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) to help shape the contours of civil rights law by winning landmark United States Supreme Court rulings in such cases as Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971), the famous school busing decision, and Griggs v. Duke Power Co. 401 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 849, 28 L.Ed.2d 158 (1971) and Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405 (1975), two of the most significant Title VII employment discrimination decisions.

In 1984, Chambers left the firm to become the third director counsel of the NAACP LDF in New York City, following in the footsteps of Thurgood Marshall and Jack Greenberg. Under his leadership, the LDF became the first line of defense against the political assault on civil rights legislation and affirmative action programs that began in the 1970s and 1980s.

He returned to North Carolina in 1993 to become chancellor of North Carolina Central University, his alma mater, and continued an active civil rights practice. In 1995, Chambers was one of three lawyers who argued Shaw v. Hunt, 517 U.S. 899, 116 S.Ct. 1894, 135 L.Ed.2d 207 (1996) (argued December 5, 1995), a landmark legislative redistricting case.

Chambers retired from his position as chancellor in 2001 and reentered private law practice with Ferguson, Stein and Chambers, where his work included business matters, employment discrimination, education and civil rights.  Chambers authored: “Beyond Affirmative Action,” Capital University Law 37.1 (1998); 1-2; Race and Equality: The Still Unfinished Business of the Warren Court, “The Warren Court: A Retrospective,” Ed. Bernard Schwartz, New York, Oxford University Press, 1996: 26-27; Afterward: Racial Equity and Full Citizenship, The Unfinished Agenda, “African Americans and the Living Constitution,” Eds. John Hope Franklin and Genna Rae McNeil, Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996: 319-325; “Black Americans and the Courts: Has the Clock Been Turned Back Permanently?” The State of Black America, 1990, New York: National Urban League, Inc. 1990: 9-24; “Adequate Education for All: A Right, An Achievable Goal,” Harv. Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 22.1 (1987): 55-74.