A life of seeking integration

The Charlotte Post Foundation will honor attorney Julius Chambers with its “Luminary – Lifetime Achievement” award Saturday.

Chambers, 71, is best known for his U.S. Supreme Court victory in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education that led to federally mandated busing to help integrate public schools across the country.

Observer reporter Franco Ordoñez sat down with Chambers to discuss his career and the state of education in Charlotte. Questions and answers have been edited for space.

Q. When you look back at your long career, what goes through your head?

Has it been worth it? You think that you made some progress. You had some objectives to begin with and you think you achieved some things and wonder if they will be lasting.

Q. What is your best memory?

Obviously it would be with the schools. We did a lot to bring back minority students into in the schools. That is one of the things I will always remember and I appreciate the community supporting us in that process. I also did a lot of work in employment and helping a number of minorities get better jobs with the postal office, with the trucking industry, with the major corporations.

Q. What is your greatest regret?

That what we were able to achieve wasn't written in stone so it couldn't change. We seem to have drifted back in resegregating schools.

Q. You're best known for the 1971 Swann case. Since the decision, are you satisfied with the progress made on desegregation?

I was. We made some progress and then we backtracked. We're now having to regroup and recover a lot of the things that we thought had been written in stone. But we saw that those accomplishments could easily be eliminated and they have been, a lot of them.

Q. What do you think of today's school system?

I think one thing happens when you integrate school. You get people to know each other. You don't ever erase that. Minorities see that they're capable of making some giant steps and can do a lot of things that they were told they couldn't do. Whites see that minorities can contribute and do some things.

So I don't think you ever really eliminate that relationship that you established when you integrate schools. And it's one reason I think it's so crucial for us to promote diversity in the schools. But we have made some progress in integrating schools. We have brought some people together. We now are going to need to regroup and do that again.

Q. What needs to happen now?

First of all, we need to get back and get people to appreciate the real value in diversity; black and whites getting together and working together; making contributions that they can make as a diverse public. That's crucial. Second, we got to make sure that we provide the resources that the teachers and others need in order to help ensure the best education that our children should have.

To me what has happened in the schools in Charlotte has only reflected what is going on outside of Charlotte. So we have to look at a broader public than what we have looked at in the past.

Q. How do you hope to be remembered?

That's my least worry. I'm more interested in making sure people are able to get together to work and make progress. I don't care who brings them together. You can do it. I don't really worry about that.

I look more at whether in Charlotte we are able to bring people together because we are a much more diverse group than we were back in 1968. And it's amazing what we've been able to accomplish thus far. I trust we can continue with that kind of progress.

Q. You've been in front of the U.S. Supreme Court eight times and won every case. What was your secret?

I represented the right side.