NC Bar to honor lawyers of color at annual meeting in Asheville

Press release from N.C. Bar Association, which will honor distinguished lawyers of color at its annual meeting, held this year in Asheville:

The Minorities in the Profession Committee of the North Carolina Bar Association will celebrate the fourth installment of the Legal Legends of Color Award on Friday, June 21, in conjunction with the 2019 NCBA Annual Meeting in Asheville.

The LLOC Reception will be held at the Biltmore, headquarters for the NCBA Annual Meeting, beginning at 8:30 p.m.

Although this is a relatively new award for lawyers of color in North Carolina, the LLOC Reception has already established itself as a popular event. There is great interest surrounding the history of this honor and, especially, the announcement of each year’s recipients.

For answers to these and other questions, please continue to the following Q&A interview with Gwendolyn Lewis of Lincoln Derr PLLC in Charlotte, a member of the Minorities in the Profession Committee who presently serves on the NCBA Board of Governors.

How did the Legal Legends of Color Award begin?

With an NCBA goal of increasing diverse member attendance at the Annual Meeting, the Minorities in the Profession committee was tasked with planning an event to be held during the Annual Meeting weekend.

The MIP Committee wanted to publicly recognize diverse attorneys of color and believed that the LLOC Award would help us accomplish this goal. We believed the event would serve as inspiration to all bar members and, in particular, our diverse bar members – we believe that it has done just that since the inauguration of the Legal Legends of Color Awards Reception at the 2016 NCBA Annual Meeting in Charlotte.

What are the main criteria the committee considers?

A nominee must be: (1) a lawyer of color practicing (or practiced most recently) in North Carolina for at least 15 years; (2) have had a legal career with a significant impact in North Carolina; (3) demonstrated a high level of service to his/her local community and/or on an statewide basis; and (4) be a member in good standing of the North Carolina State Bar (active or inactive).

How have the previous recipients impacted the profession in general, and the accomplishments of minority attorneys in particular?

Previous honorees are former Chief Justice Henry E. Frye, James E. “Fergie” Ferguson II and Justice Cheri Lynn Beasley (2016); Judge Albert Diaz, former Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson and professor Irving Joyner (2017); and Judge Shirley Fulton, Judge Paul Jones, Glenn Adams and Victor Boone (2018).

To pin down one explanation for their impact on the profession presents a challenge. Many of them were firsts in the paths that they chartered. They impacted the judiciary, the advancement of the civil rights movement, the legal academy, access to justice for low income North Carolinians, and local and state government.

Their impact on the profession represents ceilings broken for all minority attorneys who follow in their footsteps. We all benefit for their efforts, legal acumen, and lifelong contributions to the legal profession and its members.

Who are this year’s recipients?

This year’s recipients are professor Charles Daye, attorney Janice Cole, former legislator H. M. “Mickey” Michaux Jr., Judge Sammie Chess and the late Julius Chambers. This is the first year the committee has chosen to honor someone posthumously and Julius Chambers is an obvious selection in this regard. He and all of this year’s recipients, along with the honorees from previous years, served as trailblazers and leaders in their respective fields.

How have this year’s recipients influenced the practice of law in North Carolina and the generations of minority attorneys who have followed in their footsteps?

Professor Daye of the UNC School of Law has had a rich history of firsts: serving as the first African American law clerk in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and achieving history by becoming the first African American to gain a tenure-track position at UNC-law school when he joined their staff in 1972.

Attorney Janice Cole of Hertford furthers the rich history of firsts that this year’s recipients illustrate. She won a landslide victory in 1990 to become the first woman and the first black person to be elected as a District Court judge in North Carolina’s First Judicial District. She served until 1994 when President Bill Clinton nominated her to serve as U.S. Attorney in North Carolina – making her the first female African American to serve in that role and highest-ranking federal law enforcement official over 44 counties.

Mickey Michaux became Durham County’s first black representative in the General Assembly in 1972 and became the longest serving member of the N.C. House of Representatives, serving more than 43 years. His numerous contributions include banding together with the other two Africans Americans in the House to start the first black caucus. His imprint on North Carolina politics is deep-seated and meaningful.

Judge Sammie Chess of High Point made it through the Great Depression, Jim Crow era, and the civil rights struggle to become North Carolina’s first African American Superior Court judge. His legacy includes lawsuits that sought to integrate schools, theaters, hospitals and businesses in High Point and other N.C. cities.

And then there is Julius Chambers. He was a lawyer, educator and civil rights activist. He was the first African American to serve as editor of the law review at the University of North Carolina School of Law and finished first in his graduating class in 1962. He launched a solo law practice in Charlotte which became the first integrated firm in North Carolina history. In his practice, he successfully litigated pivotal cases before the U.S. Supreme Court which shaped civil rights law including busing and employment discrimination cases. He suffered many acts of violence, including bombings on his car and home. His accomplishments are innumerable and his impact ongoing. He inspired generations of lawyers to pursue civil rights and justice. His example of courageous advocacy for his clients continues to stand as a beacon for the legal profession.

Each of this year’s honorees are deserving of every recognition and we hope you will join us as we honor them.

Why is this an important event for all attorneys to attend?

Honoring legal giants who created opportunity and stood in groundbreaking positions is a night for all attorneys to celebrate – we invite all members of the legal profession to join us for a wonderful night in celebration of the honorees and fellowship with fellow bar members.

The Legal Legends of Color Reception places direct emphasis on our priority as an Association to embrace diversity and inclusion in the legal profession – on this night we will honor diverse members of our Bar and celebrate their accomplishments, together.

If someone wants to attend this event, what should they do?

If you are registered to attend the 2019 NCBA Annual Meeting in Asheville, the Legal Legends of Color Awards Reception is free, but you must register to attend the reception. You may register here: Non-members and NCBA members who are not otherwise attending the Annual Meeting should email Amy Kemple at

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