Mt. Gilead, Part 2: Julius Chambers

Last year, I wrote about a family trip to Montgomery County, NC, and I promised to follow up on a few “mysteries” of the little town Mt. Gilead. Better late than never, right? Today, I’m writing about one of the faces painted on a mural in Mt. Gilead: Julius L. Chambers.

Photo taken by me in 2021 in Mount Gilead, NC.

Obviously, Mr. Chambers was an important person in the town of Mount Gilead — but why? Well, it turns out that he made a huge impact on the Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina (and beyond). He was born in Mt. Gilead in 1936, the third child of William and Mathilda Braton Chambers (they would have four children, all of whom attended college and graduate school). His father owned an auto-repair/general store in Mount Gilead.

Education was extremely important to the Chambers family, and Julius’ older siblings attended the Laurinburg Institute, a private Black preparatory school (its history is another story in itself!). However, Julius didn’t have this advantage because of an incident that happened around 1948, when a white customer refused to pay his father for service.

“But one April day, fighting back tears, William Chambers told his son that the $2,000 he’d saved to send him to school was gone, thanks to a white customer whose 18-wheeler Chambers had maintained and repaired for months, buying parts out of his own pocket. That morning, the man had refused to pay the bill and jeered as he drove off with the rig. William Chambers spent the afternoon going door to door, asking for help from the few white lawyers in town. They all turned him away. That was the day Julius Chambers vowed to study law.” (Article by Dannye Romine Powell and David Perlmutt, The Charlotte Observer)

Julius Chambers in 1975 (photo from blackpast.org)

So, Chambers attended the public Black high school in nearby Troy — as well as having no library, “students had to kill and cut up hogs on the principal’s farm” (The Charlotte Observer). Julius joined a Book of the Month club to make up for gaps in the school’s curriculum, but still wasn’t as prepared for college as his older siblings, who’d attended the much better Laurinburg Institute. (As a side note, that’s not to say that Black teachers were lacking. Malcolm Gladwell has a great podcast, Revisionist History, where he talks in great detail about this. Check it out!)

Despite the odds, Chambers powered forward and earned admission to “North Carolina College” in Durham (now N.C. Central University), where he became student body president and graduated “summa cum laude.” He went on to earn a Master of Arts in European history at the University of Michigan, followed by a law degree at the UNC Chapel hill, newly integrated only eight years earlier. At UNC, he became the first Black editor-in-chief of the North Carolina Law Review and ranked first in his class of 100 upon graduating.

“Although he graduated first in his law school class of 1962, he could not attend the school’s celebratory banquet because of its location at a segregated country club.” (blackpast.org)

But Chambers didn’t let this incident derail him. In 1964, he worked toward his second Master’s degree from Columbia University Law School and began interning for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall himself selected Chambers for the position, which was the start of a long and historic career in civil rights.

After finishing up at Columbia, Chambers moved back to North Carolina and opened a civil rights law practice in Charlotte. The first lawyer he recruited was white — Adam Stein from Washington, D.C., — marking the first time a Black and white lawyer had joined forces in the South (not just in NC). With the recruitment of more lawyers, the firm became “Chambers, Stein, Ferguson, & Atkins” and took on hundreds of civil rights cases, challenging everything from discrimination in public hospitals to saving the jobs of Black teachers unfairly dismissed during integration. One of his most famous cases was Swann V. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education:

“Together with lawyers of the LDF, they helped shape civil rights law by winning benchmark United States Supreme Court rulings such as the famous decision of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), which led to federally mandated busing, helping integrate public schools across the country.” (https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/julius-chambers-39)

Julius Chambers’s office in Charlotte was firebombed in 1971. (Charlotte Observer File Photo)

In retaliation for shaking up a system that had always favored them, disgruntled White people used violence to try to intimidate Chambers. It didn’t work. In 1965, after Chambers sued to integrate the “Shrine Bowl,” an annual all-star football game held in Charlotte, his home and the homes of three other Charlotte civil rights leaders were blown up. Chambers and his wife, Vivian Giles Chambers, had been in bed when the sticks of dynamite were thrown into their home.

“I threw up next to the house. I was angry,” he told the Observer recently. “I didn’t know who did it. I didn’t know why they would do it. I had my ideas. We knew getting with the Shrine Bowl was going to cause a lot of problems. And it did.” Chambers told the Observer he felt the Shrine Bowl lawsuit was one of his most important civil rights cases. “We were able to reach a lot of parents, teachers, principals, who played very important roles in black and white communities,” he said. (Charlotte Observer)

Chambers’ office and his car were also firebombed. But he kept on.

“The animosity toward him and his positions was just heavy and real. You could feel it,” said C.D. Spangler, former UNC president, who came on the school board in 1972 after Chambers had sued that board and won. “But he never let that change him personally.… He didn’t hate the people who hated him.” (Charlotte Observer)

Chambers’ is described as a “quiet” and “softspoken” person, which makes me think of the saying, “Still waters run deep.” His opponents underestimated him, it’s clear, and he used this to his advantage in the courtroom.

“A lot of people were surprised to see Chambers in court,” said his partner James Ferguson. “Some people expected him to be bombastic and always on the attack. Chambers never raised his voice. He was always very low key and very calm, and because of this approach, he disarmed the witness.” John Gresham, a former law partner, said Chambers had a habit of playing with string or a rubber band, often making a cat’s cradle, while interrogating a witness – lulling the witness into a false sense of security. Another tactic, Gresham said, was to start out asking innocuous questions that appeared to be aimed at finding out very simple things about the company’s policies. “You could see the witness relaxing and thinking, ‘This guy doesn’t even know how we operate.’ Then Chambers would very carefully draw a circle around what he wanted to know, and as soon as he had the loop closed, he would bore in, and you could see the witness thinking, ‘Oh, my God!’” (Charlotte Observer)

The second half of Chambers’s life was no less active — from serving the NAACP-LDF as their third director-counsel and successfully defending affirmative action and other civil rights laws to leading North Carolina Central University as the chancellor. It is impossible to capture all of Chambers’ accomplishments and struggles in one blog post, but at least we have a small understanding now why Mt. Gilead is so proud to call Julius Chambers one of their own. Mr. Chambers died in 2013 and the age of 76 in Charlotte, NC, survived by his two children Derrick and Judy, and three grandchildren. Among many honors, a statue, high school, and highway now bear his name.

In 2018, NC Governor Roy Cooper and Julius Chambers’s family dedicated a section of Interstate highway in Charlotte to his memory. (https://countynews4you.com/highway_dedicated_to_julius_chambers.htmlhttps://countynews4you.com/highway_dedicated_to_julius_chambers.html)

Sources/For more information:

Reading, Writing, and Race: The Desegregation of the Charlotte Schools, by Davison M. Douglas

https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article116679528.html

https://www.thestate.com/news/local/civil-rights/article14438921.html

https://web.archive.org/web/20040918083340/http://www.unctv.org/biocon/jchambers/timeline.html

Mixing it up!

While my writing has been … a bit slow, I’ve been taking on other creative projects. My podcast, Train Your Brain to be Creative (I know, not a very creative name!), has been really fun to work on. And now, using ideas from my online graphic design classes, I’m creating designs in zazzle.com to put on tee shirts, tote bags, and postcards.

My latest “collection” (sounds fancier than it is!) is of powerful female leaders, inspired by Kamala Harris’s recent win! It’s really fun to take a photograph from the Creative Commons and edit it, adding colors and swirls and all sorts of thing. My goal is to improve my tech skills, have fun, and spread some positive images out there!

Whatever I sell in this collection, I’m going to donate the profits to the Malala Fund, which advocates for girls’ secondary education in Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. Malala Yousafzai is a hero of mine, having survived being shot by the Taliban when she was only 11 years old. She didn’t let that stop her and went on to become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate!

You can check out my online zazzle store here: https://www.zazzle.com/collections/woman_power-119711412469975520

Improving Writing Productivity Amid a Pandemic — Women Writers, Women’s Books

This is a re-post from the excellent Women Writers, Women’s Books

Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and supports Delhi’s underprivileged women and children, volunteering with organisations who work for this cause. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. Her novel You Beneath Your Skin will be free between 7th and 11th August […]

Improving Writing Productivity Amid a Pandemic — Women Writers, Women’s Books

A new podcast … by me!

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might know that I love podcasts! Well, a friend, fellow writer Lisa Logan, got me started on Anchor. It’s a site that lets you create your own podcasts for free, and I was immediately hooked!

With Lisa’s encouragement, I’ve begun recording short (about 6 mins) podcasts about how to spark creativity. They’re especially geared for people who are convinced they are NOT creative, but anyone can enjoy the brief lessons on how to get your imagination going.

Lisa will join me on some episodes, as she’s one of the most creative people I know! So, if you’d like, please give a listen!

What is authenticity in writing?

Hidden BrainI recently listened to an episode of the excellent podcast Hidden Brain by NPR,  hosted by Shankar Vedantam. This particular episode focused on the author Gail Shepherd (who sadly passed away in February this year) and her novel The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins.

Originally, Shepherd had written her main character as half-Vietnamese, based on the life of a very close friend who is half white and half Vietnamese. But after much research and talking with friends of different races, Shepherd decided to re-write her novel with a white protagonist. Despite already having her good friend’s “blessing” to write the story, Shepherd worried that critics would say she was appropriating another culture.

Listening to the podcast, I remembered that while in graduate school I had written two short stories with Chinese and half-Vietnamese main characters. I wrote the stories based on my own knowledge (my boyfriend and now-husband is Chinese-Vietnamese, and we’d traveled to Vietnam together). I also had Vietnamese friends, so I didn’t think too much about it.

Today, I’m more educated about and aware of white privilege. I understand Shepherd’s decision. She had to consider dynamics of the publishing world, her own feelings about cultural appropriation, and her readers’ feelings. I was pretty much oblivious to all that in graduate school!

But I also agree with a point that host Shankar Vedantam made — Shepherd’s original version of the novel included insights about race and growing up Asian in the American South. Possibly, some American-Asian girls could have benefited from reading this story. While Shepherd was not Asian, she knew her friend’s story very well. She was telling an authentic story. That version could have been very insightful.

Shepherd argued that while people of color are not fairly represented in the publishing world, she didn’t feel comfortable writing as a different race. But if her friend wasn’t a writer and couldn’t tell her story, wasn’t better that someone she loved and trusted did?

It’s the job of fiction writers to tell lies to describe truths about life. Of course, there are some stories we can’t write — I don’t know how to write from a Black character’s point of view. I feel okay about writing from a 3rd person perspective of an Asian American character — but maybe not as much as I used to. If we are creating from a place of honesty and empathy — NOT using cultural stereotypes — I think it can be useful to have these stories told, regardless of the writer’s race.

And as one of the guests on the podcast, philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, said a person’s identity is not wholly their race. They are also parents, grandparents, teachers, artists, philosophers, plumbers, athletes, and a multitude of other roles and identities.

But I am a white person and, so, can only see through the lens of a white person. What do you think? Story tellers use their imaginations, but are there some things we just can’t imagine well enough to write about? 

Radio Rental and other quality podcasts…

During the “lockdown,” or whatever you want to call it, I’ve continued to listen to podcasts to keep my brain busy! Here’s a rundown of the latest ones I’ve enjoyed. Feel free to add suggestions for podcasts you like in the comments section!

Radio Rental

Hosted by Terry Carnation (a.k.a Dwight from “The Office”), Radio Rental is pure wackiness! The premise is that Terry runs a video rental store (remember those?) and shares real-life “video” stories from listeners that are weird and creepy. My favorite is the one about a doppleganger…

Guru

If you’ve ever been fascinated by self-help books, you might want to listen to Guru by Wondery. (They’re the same folk who produced “Dr. Death” and “The Shrink Next Door.”) James Arthur Ray was big in 2009, touted by Oprah and charging thousands for his so-called “sweat lodge” retreats. The results were tragic, and even scarier, Ray is still out there today.

Uncover

Another podcast by CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), Uncover is an investigative series that uncovers the dirty truth behind botched investigations and unsolved mysteries. Season 7 concerns a man who was wrongly imprisoned for murder. Uncover is gritty and honest, so be forewarned.

To read more about my favorite podcasts, click here and don’t forget to share your own!

“Accused” podcast shines bright

accused-300x300

I love listening to podcasts, especially true crimes and cold cases. I’ve listened to a LOT put out by Wondery, “the largest independent podcaster in the world,” according to their website. Wondery is a network, launched by a former FOX CEO, so it’s no small potatoes. They’re responsible for “Dr. Death,” “Over My Dead Body,” “Dirty John,” “The Shrink Next Door,” and the series I’m listening to right now — Accused.

While the other series are, in my opinion, a bit sensational, Accused is much more straightforward. The series is produced by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cincinnati newspaper, The Enquirer and its associated website http://www.cincinnati.com, It was created by Enquirer reporter Amber Hunt and photographer Amanda Rossmann in 2016 and is now on its third season.

Amber Hunt is as sharp as a tack, no-nonsense, and thorough. Accused shines the spotlight on wrongful convictions and cover-ups. I’m listening to Season 3 right now, as Hunt investigates the 1984 disappearance of a man working at the “Fernald Feed Materials Production Center” (A.K.A. a uranium processing plant owned by the government). David Bocks went to work one day and simply vanished. Suspicious remains were found in a vat of molten salt (temperature = 1350 degrees Farenheit). His death was ruled a suicide.

Accused goes after the crimes others have forgotten — or have swept under the rug. I like Hunt and her team’s doggedness to ferret out the facts. They follow a lead to the very end and are a voice for victims and the truth.

Patreon for creative types…

Have you heard of Patreon? I started hearing about it a year ago during my favorite podcasts. They would say something like, “Please support us on Patreon.” So, I checked it out, and it’s pretty cool.

1-1234699141PRLF

Basically, it’s a website that lets you collect donations for your creative work. It’s kind of like crowdfunding, but I like Patreon better because you offer “rewards” for your subscribers. For example, if you donate $2/month to your favorite podcast, they might give you access to ALL their episodes, rather than just a few.

Or your favorite YouTuber might reward a $5/month subscription with behind-the-scenes videos that only patrons can see. You set up your own subscription rates and your own rewards. I’ve seen Patreon sites for writers, podcasters, illustrators, people who create video games… there’s seems to be no limit!

money pink coins pig
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

I recently set up a Patreon page for my kids’ magazine, JUMP! My goal is to raise enough money to print out lots of copies for children in Alamance County, NC. My mag is tiny — more of a newsletter — but I pack pictures, book reviews, craft ideas, science stuff, and much more in there. I’d like kids (and their guardians) anywhere in the county to be able to pick up a copy for free from the library or their doctor’s office. The overall goal is to promote learning in a fun way!

If you’re a writer or other creative type who needs to raise funds for a project, you might want to have a look at Patreon and see if it’s right for you. I’ll keep you posted on how my page does!

 

Highway of Tears

I’m listening to another CBC podcast: “Missing and Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams?” Reporter Connie Walker investigates the 1989 unsolved murder of a young indigenous woman. Alberta Williams was found along Highway 16 in British Columbia, now known as the Highway of Tears because of the number of women (mainly indigenous) who have been murdered or went missing along the highway.

As she interviews people who knew Alberta, Connie Walker peels back the layers of a terrible past that may be unknown to many non-Canadians.

From the 1880s until as late as 1996 (!!!), the Canadian government operated “residential schools,” or boarding schools for indigenous people. Children as young as 6 were forcibly removed from their homes and taken from their families to spend years in cruel institutions where they faced sexual abuse, forced starvation, and even death. Their hair was cut, and they were not allowed to speak their ancestral languages.

The legacy of residential schools continues today, passed down by grandparents and parents who were treated less than human. Alcoholism, PTSD, poverty, domestic violence, and feelings of worthlessness are remnants of the residential school system.

I just finished listening to Episode 3, where Connie Walkers begins to connect the past with the present — why are indigenous women  3 to 4 times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous Canadian women? Unlike all the other podcasts I’ve listened to, Walkers draws from her own childhood experiences and links the culture to the crime.

Walker’s approach underlines how no crime stands by itself. We are all products of our upbringing, history, and society. And it reminds me how every country has its shameful past — the U.S. being no different — that affects its citizens for generations.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑