Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, December 13, 1990. Interview L-0064-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Julius Chambers becomes the first African American editor-in-chief of the Law Review

Pollitt describes the process by which Julius Chambers, a law student at the University of North Carolina, became the first editor-in-chief of the Law Review in 1962. Chambers was ranked number one in his class, but a recent policy change meant that he was facing off against Pete Millett, ranked number two. When Millett realized that policies of racial segregation were going to play a role in the election for editor-in-chief, he stepped aside because he believed Chambers to be deserving of the position. Pollitt situates the election of Chambers within broader changes in the UNC School of Law during the late 1950s and early 1960s and explains how it garnered national attention.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, December 13, 1990. Interview L-0064-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Then also, we hired Pete Millett to teach taxes. I guess somebody was away or something, but this was 1962 and Pete Millett had gone to Harvard undergraduate and then married a North Carolinian and had been in the Navy. There seems to be a pattern developing. Then he came here to law school. He was in the same class with Julius Chambers. The year that Julius Chambers was a second year student, we changed the method of selecting the Editor in Chief. Up until that time, the number one person in the class was automatically the Editor in Chief. And George Hardy who came here and said, "We didn't do it this way in Louisiana because the number one in the class may be a nerd or whatever. We want somebody who can work with the other people and who can know something about journalism or something." So we changed it to the top three and then the students recommend and the faculty appoints. So that was when Julius Chambers was in his second year. Then Julius Chambers went on to be number one in his class and had we not changed it, he would have been automatically the Editor in Chief. Well, number two in the class was Pete Millet and so the students had to vote on which one should be the Editor in Chief. At that time there was a Law Review banquet for the outgoing and the incoming members of the Law Review and past members of the Law Review, so it was in a sense, an elitist thing and you'd get a judge or somebody to give a speech. At Cornell where they did that, they wore tuxedos and there was liquor. There was a bar before the dinner. Well, at that time there was no place where you could get a drink that would admit Negroes. So if we elected Julius Chambers the editor and the Editor in Chief presides over the dinner, that meant we would have to have the annual Law Review dinner in a campus facility where they don't serve liquor and that was sort of a…. It was crazy, but that became an issue, whereupon Pete Millett said, "I withdraw from the race."
When he realized that was…
He did not want that. He withdrew in favor of Julius Chambers whereupon we did away with the Law Review dinner. We solved the problem. And then later on, some years later, they revived it in the sense there's now a Law Review breakfast to which everybody is invited. But that was Pete Millet. I thought that was great of him to withdraw in favor of Julius Chambers and he said, "Julius Chambers is number one in the class and he can get along with everybody and that he ought to get it." He made the nominating speech for Julius Chambers.
Was Julius Chambers the first black chief?
He was the first black editor of a Law Review outside of a black law school anywhere at any time.
And this was in the early 1960's?
Yes. "Time" magazine came down and wrote a big thing about it and "Life" made a big thing about it. Earl Warren, the Chief Justice, called me and asked me if Julius Chambers wanted to be a clerk for him. I guess he called Henry Brandis. I got a call from Arthur Goldberg who was then the Secretary of Labor asking me if Julius Chambers would like to move into the Secretary's office. Bobby Kennedy, who was the Attorney General, called down here, so he was a rarity and a great person. But he told me that he…. There's always the big firm that's the end of the rainbow. Everybody wants to go King and Spaulding or something. That's the milieu. Well, Julius Chambers told me he went up to Covington and Burlington which is the traditional large top D.C. law firm and was interviewed there and four or five of the senior partners called him, "Boy". They'd say, "Well, boy, why would you like to come work for this firm? You know we don't have any coloreds here." You know? That sort of thing, which is where we were in civilization as it's so-called.