Chambers Center

Welcome to the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights. We are a new non-profit dedicated to providing low-wealth North Carolina communities with sound legal representation in their efforts to dismantle structural racism. We are delighted to share with you our first year-end report. We hope that it inspires you to make a contribution to support this important work.

What We Do

The Center uses a unique community-lawyering model to work with North Carolina communities to address the inequities they see every day. Our primary targets are challenging discriminatory policies and practices that block equitable access to:

♦ quality public K-12 schools;
♦  safe and affordable housing and related infrastructure;
♦  political participation and representation;
♦  and environmental justice.

We are working on a number of matters that exemplify these goals, including current litigation over the maintenance of three racially segregated and under-performing school districts in Halifax County (now pending at the NC Supreme Court); the refusal of a predominantly white town to annex and include a historic African American community in Stokes County; and administrative challenges to the adverse impacts of the concentration of industrial hog production facilities in predominantly African American, Native American and Latino communities in southeastern NC.

Building on the Legacy of Julius Chambers

In 2001, Julius Levonne Chambers, the legendary civil rights lawyer and North Carolina native, founded the UNC Center for Civil Rights at UNC Law School. Through the Center, Mr. Chambers created a unique community-lawyering model to help disempowered communities. For 17 years, his Center brought staff attorneys and students together to challenge the barriers these communities faced. The new Chambers Center will continue that mission of training the next generation of civil rights lawyers.

In September 2017, following a two-year series of attacks on the Center’s legacy, the UNC Board of Governors voted to ban the Center from engaging in advocacy or acting as legal counsel to any third party. Subsequently, the University of North Carolina terminated Haddix and Dorosin and discontinued the critical litigation mission of the Center.

The two attorneys created the Julius Chambers Center for Civil Rights to continue the litigation and advocacy that was so vital to the UNC Center’s success.

We have taken all 14 cases that the Center was already pursuing, and we’re now looking at a new set of potential cases that were put on hold while the Center was under investigation. As an independent organization, we can fulfill the vision that led Julius Chambers to found the UNC Center and work with the excluded communities he sought to serve.

STAFF

Elizabeth Haddix is Co-Director of Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights. Elizabeth was previously the Senior Staff Attorney at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Center for Civil Rights where she expanded the focus of the Center’s community-based advocacy and led the Center’s innovative environmental justice docket from 2010 until the UNC Board of Governors banned the Center’s legal advocacy in 2017. Elizabeth litigated both environmental justice and education equity cases on behalf of organizational and individual clients, co-authored advocacy-driven research reports, and mentored many law students and recent law graduates in hopes they will become social justice lawyers. Before 2010, Elizabeth practiced employment and civil rights law with the law firm of Edelstein & Payne in Raleigh, NC. Elizabeth grew up in Mississippi, earned her B.A. from Duke University, and taught public high school in Eastern North Carolina before earning a J.D. from the UNC School of Law in 1998.

 

Mark Dorosin is a Co-Director of Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights. Mark was the Managing Attorney of the UNC Center for Civil Rights for 9 years, until the UNC Board of Governors banned it from engaging in legal advocacy. While at UNC’s Center, Mark helped developed the Inclusion Project, which grew out of our clients’ common struggles against the continuing impacts of racial segregation and exclusion.  He helped focus the docket on housing discrimination, environmental justice, restrictions on political participation, and racial disparities in education. Mark is committed to training the next generation of social justice lawyers, and still teaches Political and Civil Rights and State and Local Government at UNC Law School. Mark has also taught at Duke University Law School, and worked for Self-Help, a leading North Carolina community development corporation. Following graduation from UNC Law in 1994, Mark was a partner at the Chapel Hill civil rights law firm McSurely, Dorosin & Osment.  Mark served on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen from 1999-2003.  He was elected to the Orange County Board of Commissioners in 2012 and re-elected in 2016, and currently serves as Chairman.

“I know my father would be happy to see that his work is continuing and getting stronger than ever, free now from the political influence and control that ended his UNC Center for Civil Rights. The Chambers Center needs your help now, so that it can continue to represent poor and excluded communities in North Carolina and across the region.” – Judy Chambers

Board of Directors

Julius L. Chambers was one of the most important civil rights lawyers in our nation’s history, litigating numerous precedent-setting cases in voting rights, education, employment discrimination, and public accommodations. He was an inspirational mentor to hundreds of lawyers, and the Center is named in his honor. Julius LeVonne Chambers was born in Mount Gilead, N.C. His father owned a garage. When a white customer refused to pay for repairs, Julius’ father sought the help of white lawyers in town, but none would take the case. According to Julius, that’s when he decided he would become a lawyer. After high school, Chambers attended North Carolina Central University (then North Carolina College). He was student body president and graduated summa cum laude. He earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Michigan then attended law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was elected editor in chief of The North Carolina Law Review, the first African American to be editor of the law review at a predominantly white law school. Chambers graduated first in his law school class, but could not attend the law school’s annual banquet, which was held at a segregated country club.

Following law school, Chambers was selected by Thurgood Marshall for an internship with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He then returned to North Carolina and opened a civil rights law firm in Charlotte, which became the first integrated law office in North Carolina. In a short time, the firm was working on 35 school desegregation suits and 20 cases regarding race discrimination in public accommodations. Along with partners James E. Ferguson II and Adam Stein, the firm won numerous groundbreaking civil rights victories in the U.S. Supreme Court, including Swann v.Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, in which the Court authorized the use of busing to achieve school integration; Griggs v. Duke Power and Albemarle Paper Co. v Moody, which expanded the law of employment discrimination to prohibit disparate racial impacts of racially neutral policies; and Thornburg v. Gingles, which determined that it is not necessary to prove intentional discrimination in voting rights cases.

Chambers’ dedication to civil rights did not come without a cost. At various times during his career, his car, home, and office were firebombed. Undeterred, he and his growing law firm continued to bring and win major cases that impacted civil rights nationally. Chambers left private practice in in 1984 to become the third Director- Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which he led for the next nine years, defending the legal gains of the civil rights movement against challenges from an increasingly conservative Supreme Court. In 1993 left LDF to become Chancellor of his alma mater, North Carolina Central University. He left Central in 2001 to return to private practice and to become the founding Executive Director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights at his other alma mater, UNC Law School. Chambers led the UNC Center until retiring in 2010. He passed away in 2013.

Julius was committed to passing on his tireless dedication to social justice, racial equality, and community engagement to succeeding generations of civil rights lawyers. He used to ask each day, “What great things are you working on?  We hope that the work of the Julius Chambers Center for Civil Rights stands as a meaningful answer to that question.