Vance High School renamed in honor of civil rights attorney Julius L. Chambers

CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg County School Board voted to Tuesday to rename Vance High School in honor of civil rights attorney Julius L. Chambers.

Zebulon B. Vance was a former senator, governor and Confederate colonel. But after George Floyd’s death in May, people started pushing for Vance’s name to be removed.

“Chambers, who died in 2013, founded the first integrated law firm in the state," CMS said in a news release. "His firm brought several landmark cases that shaped civil rights laws in North Carolina and the nation, including the Swann case involving the use of busing to desegregate schools. Chambers appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in eight cases, winning every time. He also exhibited great personal courage, persisting in his legal work and civil rights activism despite having his house, his car and his office firebombed several times.”

“Julius Chambers was really a giant of the law and a giant of civil rights, a quiet giant,” historian Tom Hanchett said.

A landmark case, Swann vs. Mecklenburg, was one of eight Supreme Court cases that Chambers won.

“It was the case that made court-ordered busing for racial balance part of school policy in districts all across the United States,” Hanchett said. “In that way, he not only transformed this community but many communities.”

Chambers' son said his father referred to the case as his baby.

“If you would say of all of his accomplishments, it was the case that helped put him on the map,” Derrick Chambers said. “All I can say is that I’m honored. And so thankful that he was my hero and my father.”

The school board’s decision to change the high school’s name was unanimous.

“He is the reason, I as a black person coming from a totally segregated elementary through college educational experience, was able to begin my career in teaching in a newly integrated Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,” Board member Ruby Jones said.

Vance practiced law in Charlotte, but he was well known for being a politician. He served as North Carolina’s governor and a U.S. senator in the 1800s. Vance was memorialized in statues, and other schools across the state are named after him.

Vance is controversial because he was a Confederate military captain during the Civil War and he owned slaves. As a politician, he also argued against a bill that would end racial discrimination in schools, transportation and public accommodations.

A survey was open for students, parents, faculty and the community to weigh in on the recommendations.

The three finalists were:

  • Julius L. Chambers High School -- named for the lawyer who fought for civil rights and school desegregation
  • Queen City High School -- to reflect Charlotte’s nickname
  • University City High School -- representing the school’s location

CMS said they received 1,195 responses from the community, which overwhelmingly favored changing the school’s name to Julius L. Chambers H.S. But the majority of the 476 student responses preferred University City H.S.

Students and teachers gave one-minute presentations in September advocating for their choices to rename the high school.