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CMS Renames Vance High For Civil Rights Icon Julius Chambers

Attorney Julius Chambers (center) will be the new namesake for Zebulon Vance High.
UNC Center for Civil Rights
Attorney Julius Chambers (center) will be the new namesake for Zebulon Vance High.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to rename Vance High School in honor of Charlotte civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers.

In 1997, the CMS board agreed to name the high school in the new Governors Village campus for Zebulon Vance, a Confederate officer and slaveholder who led the state in the 1860s and '70s.

In the tumultuous summer of 2020, with outrage building over monuments to white supremacy, Superintendent Earnest Winston and the current school board said it was time to change the name. Last night the board voted 8-0 to rename the school Julius L. Chambers High School.

Chambers’ Charlotte law firm filed dozens of suits against school segregation and racial discrimination. Chambers won a case in the U.S. Supreme Court that forced CMS to desegregate in 1971. He died in 2013.

"This is an opportunity to recognize, honor and pay reverence to a national leader in civil rights whose work began right here in Charlotte," said Winston, who is the district's second Black superintendent.

History For Students

The name was the top choice with community members who had weighed in on a CMS poll. But the Vance students who were polled preferred University City High or Queen City High. Vance is in northeast Charlotte, near UNC Charlotte.

Earlier in the meeting, Denada Jackson told the board she was one of the first students at Vance High and still volunteers there. She said she and a friend lobbied to get the school named for Nellie Love, an educator who was part of the founding of the school.

She said Chambers "had no personal connection to the school or helped Vance to be successful."

Board members said Chambers and his work may seem distant to today's teens, but they hope the name change will help them learn about work that remains relevant.

Just this week, CMS posted a 2020 diversity report that shows just over half of all Black and Hispanic students attend schools that are less than 10% white, which some experts label intensely segregated. Vance, which has about 2,000 students, is 59% Black, 33% Hispanic and 2.5% white.

Board member Ruby Jones said Chambers’ work shaped her career as an educator.

"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," Jones said. "Black educators and white educators, Black students and white students, together in the same space."

Neither Winston nor the board said when and how the name change will happen.

The board also approved South Academy of International Languages as the name for a new K-8 magnet school scheduled to open in August 2021 on the old Nations Ford Elementary site. That school and a similar one in Huntersville will replace Waddell Language Academy. There was no word on the naming of the north school.

Copyright 2021 WFAE. To see more, visit WFAE.

Ann Doss Helms covers education for WFAE. She was a reporter for The Charlotte Observer for 32 years, including 16 years on the education beat. She has repeatedly won first place in education reporting from the North Carolina Press Association and won the 2015 Associated Press Senator Sam Open Government Award for reporting on charter school salaries.
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