The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education voted Oct. 13 to rename Vance High School in honor of civil rights attorney Julius L. Chambers. In addition, the Board voted to name the new south language academy opening in the fall of 2022 and the tennis courts at Independence High.
The renaming of Vance followed a wide-ranging community discussion about the history of Zebulon Baird Vance, a lawyer and Confederate military officer who was twice elected governor of North Carolina and served in the U.S. Senate. Vance came from a wealthy Buncombe County family which owned slaves.
Chambers, who died in 2013, founded the first integrated law firm in the state. 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.
"Mr. Chambers' life and legacy represents the very best of who we are," Dashew said. "He worked to make our county, state and country a more just and fairer place for all of us. His name on the high school will remind students, and the rest of us, that social justice is achievable, and we share responsibility for making it happen."
Three possible names for the school were chosen using an established protocol of creating a committee that included representatives of the community and the school. Students, community members and the committee voted, and with that information, Superintendent Earnest Winston recommended Julius L. Chambers High to the Board.
"Names and symbols should reflect our values. They speak to who we are and what we aspire to do," said Winston. "Mr. Chambers was a major figure in civil rights locally and nationally, bringing cases that shaped our laws to the U.S. Supreme Court. In this renaming, we consulted with the students, the school staff and the community."
The Board also voted on two other naming changes recommended by Winston. One will name the new K-8 language magnet school in south Charlotte the South Academy of International Languages; the other would name the tennis courts at Independence High for longtime coaches Jan and Dianne Spence.
The new school is a K-8 language-immersion magnet on the site of the former Nations Ford Elementary. The new name was selected by a committee of citizens, parents and CMS employees and recommended by Winston.
The naming of the tennis courts at Independence honors Jan and Dianne Spence, a couple who have built a strong tennis program at the school. "Mr. and Mrs. Spence's dedication to student athletes over the last 15 years has made the tennis program the success that it is today," Independence Principal David Legrand wrote in a letter supporting the naming of Spence Courts. He noted that Mr. Spence served as a campus security associate for many years and Mrs. Spence is a retired teacher who still serves as a substitute.