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School Leaders Hope New Name For Vance Wins Over Students Who Wanted 'University City High'

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

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board's decision to rename Vance High for civil rights attorney Julius Chambers goes counter to what many students at the school had hoped for. But the principal and a senior who served on the naming committee say they think students will warm to the new name.

Allison Taylor is a senior at Zebulon Vance High school in northeast Charlotte. She said that she and her classmates have long thought it was strange that a majority-Black school is named for a Confederate officer who owned enslaved people.

"We always had questions on why they named the school after him, knowing his background and everything," she said.

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Allison Taylor
Vance High senior Allison Taylor

But she said students didn’t know how to get answers, let alone ask for a change. When Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced plans to change the name, Taylor signed up for the renaming committee. She helped research historical figures who had been nominated — including civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers.

CMS asked community members to rank three options for the new name: Julius Chambers, Queen City and University City. Chambers was the top choice among adults. But students wanted University City. Not only was it the top choice in the CMS poll, but Taylor said students were already circulating a new logo and coming up with chants, such as "U C, You Know."

She said her classmates didn’t know much about Chambers. He was born in 1936 and fought many of his groundbreaking civil rights cases decades before students were born. And she said some pointed out that a location or place name wouldn’t be controversial.

But Taylor said the new name will grow on her classmates.

"A lot of students, once they heard the name they started looking him up, and honestly once they looked him up and saw the great things he did throughout his life, and the things he did for CMS, they actually really liked it," Taylor said.

Principal Has A Connection

Vance Principal Erik Turner is 44, too young to remember Chambers’ fight to desegregate CMS. But Turner graduated from West Charlotte High, where the integration efforts played out on a national stage. And he went on to North Carolina Central University.

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Vance High Principal Erik Turner

"Attorney Chambers was actually my chancellor who gave me my degree at North Carolina Central, so I know him, I know his family and I know his work," Turner said.

Turner agreed that students don’t know much about Chambers. "That lets me know that we have to do some work," he said.

One idea: Turner would like to see Chambers High offer a pre-law career track.

"I think that that would be a great way for us not just to be named after him, but also to have an academic arm that continues some of the advocacy work around law that our students really could benefit from," Turner said.

The new name won’t take effect until next school year.

Taylor said she’s OK with being part of the final graduating class of Vance High.

"You know, the chapter of Vance High School has come to an end," she said. "But the new chapter of Julius Chambers High School is going to be something great."

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