Julius Chambers

A Life in the Legal Struggle for Civil Rights

By Richard A. Rosen, Joseph Mosnier

408 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2854-7
    Published: December 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2855-4
    Published: October 2016

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Born in the hamlet of Mount Gilead, North Carolina, Julius Chambers (1936–2013) escaped the fetters of the Jim Crow South to emerge in the 1960s and 1970s as the nation’s leading African American civil rights attorney. Following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Chambers worked to advance the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s strategic litigation campaign for civil rights, ultimately winning landmark school and employment desegregation cases at the U.S. Supreme Court. Undaunted by the dynamiting of his home and the arson that destroyed the offices of his small integrated law practice, Chambers pushed federal civil rights law to its highwater mark.

In this biography, Richard A. Rosen and Joseph Mosnier connect the details of Chambers’s life to the wider struggle to secure racial equality through the development of modern civil rights law. Tracing his path from a dilapidated black elementary school to counsel’s lectern at the Supreme Court and beyond, they reveal Chambers’s singular influence on the evolution of federal civil rights law after 1964.

About the Authors

Richard A. Rosen is professor of law emeritus at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Joseph Mosnier earned his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and now pursues his interest in social justice in the arena of global public health.


"This first biography of Chambers captur[es] his personality, character, and self-effacing determination. . . . Though books on legal topics are hardly known for their readability, this one is an exception. More than a simple biography of a lawyer, this account chronicles an entire law firm and how civil rights are achieved in the real world. Verdict: Essential."--Library Journal, Starred Review

"An excellent resource for understanding how the civil rights struggle played out in less-heralded venues."--Publishers Weekly

"A remarkable story well told. . . . [and] one that anyone interested in North Carolina history, and particularly the struggle for racial equality, should read."--Rob Christensen, The News and Observer

“This is a terrific book. Telling the story of Chambers and his law firm, Rosen and Mosnier have added a chapter that has long been missing from the history of the North Carolina civil rights movement. Many other historians have touched on aspects of Chambers’s life and work, but no one has ever done it this well, or in such detail.”--Davison M. Douglas, William and Mary Law School

"A rich and engrossing biography of a courageous, pioneering litigator whose landmark contributions to U.S. civil rights law should be much more widely known than they are."--David J. Garrow, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Bearing the Cross

“Richard Rosen and Joseph Mosnier have written a splendid account of the life of Julius L. Chambers, who rose from poverty and segregation to change North Carolina and America. Chambers walks with Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley, Robert L. Carter, Jack Greenberg, and the great lawyers who brilliantly and courageously bent the arc of history to fulfill the promise of the Constitution and to guarantee civil rights for all. This is his story, wonderfully told.”--Theodore M. Shaw, Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil Rights at UNC Law School at Chapel Hill