Zebulon B. Vance High School has been officially renamed in honor of the late Julius L. Chambers, one of the nation’s most influential civil rights attorneys.
The Wednesday ceremony was held after the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board voted 8-0 last fall to drop the school’s Confederate namesake in favor of one deemed more appropriate.
Vance, an enslaver who fought to uphold the Confederacy, later served as a North Carolina governor and senator who fought to enact and preserve various forms of racial discrimination.
“It is truly a cause for celebration when we can see a tangible manifestation of our work,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston said Wednesday, addressing those who had come to witness the renaming. “That work aims to move us from a past that separates those whose lives divided to a present and future that honors those who join us in facilitating diversity and inclusiveness.”
Chambers founded the first integrated law firm in North Carolina, where he won eight cases before the Supreme Court that would help shape American civil rights laws.
His victory in Swann vs Charlotte-Mecklenburg, in 1971, mandated busing that led to the integration of schools locally and throughout the country. Chambers also fought cases involving voting rights, employment discrimination, and public accommodations.
He spent time as an educator, serving as a lecturer and adjunct professor at a number of law schools. In 1993, Chamber became the chancellor at his alma mater, North Carolina Central University, where he served until 2001. He died in 2013.
Ruby Jones, a school board member since 2012, said that while the school’s name may be new, every student should know of the legacy and impact of Chambers.
“He saw what was wrong in the system of segregation…He moved to change it,” Jones told the crowd. “It is important to know that our present is built upon past giants, trailblazers who did the hard work for today’s youth to build upon.”
As a reflection of Chambers’ legacy, Julius L. Chambers High School will offer new courses this fal that will focus on law and civil rights. Among them: The Cambridge International Programme, Law and Justice I and II, and Public Safety I and II.