Last week, Anthony Foxx wrapped up his tenure as the nation’s 17th Secretary of Transportation. President Obama appointed him to the post; he was confirmed July 2, 2013.
Before taking on that post Mr. Foxx served 3 and a half years as Charlotte’s 54th Mayor. Foxx is a young star in the Democratic Party, and led the City’s successful bid to host the Democratic Party’s 2012 Convention, at which the Party conferred its nomination on President Obama, who went on to win a second term in office in November 2012.
Foxx, 45, was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, graduated from West Charlotte High School, and attended and graduated from Davidson College, (located in Mecklenburg County, the county of which Charlotte is the County Seat), where he became the first African American Student Body President. After matriculating at Davidson, he attended New York University School of Law (NYU), where he earned a J.D. in 1996.
After graduating from law school, Foxx worked at a law firm in Charlotte, clerked for an Appeals Court Judge in Cincinnati, worked for the United States Department of Justice, the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, and in 2004, he served as campaign manager for Representative Mel Watt (NC).
In the process of honing his own political chops, Foxx ran for and was elected to the Charlotte City Council in 2005, and re-elected in 2007. In 2009 he upped his game, running for and winning election at Charlotte’s Mayor, a post to which he was re-elected in 2011.
President Obama announced in April; 2013 that he would nominate Mr. Foxx as Secretary of Transportation. Subsequently, June 27, the Senate confirmed Foxx’s nomination to the post by a vote of 100-0. He resigned as Charlotte’s Mayor and accepted the position. As an aside, Foxx served as the designated survivor during the 2015 State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015. Fox and his wife Samara, also an attorney, have two children, Hillary and Zachary.
Foxx, like other members of the Obama Cabinet wrapped up his official duties by noon last Friday, January 20, 2017. As the Secretary prepared to hit the road, figuratively, he initiated a parting gesture designed to pay homage to two North Carolinians who gained notoriety as civil rights icons. He signed proclamations sometime last week, asking the NC Department of Transportation to designate portions of I-85 in Mecklenburg (where the City of Charlotte is located) and Durham (where the City of Durham is located) Counties be re-named the Julius Chambers Memorial Highway, and the John Hope Franklin Memorial Highway, respectively.
The process is not yet complete, but it’s anticipated that it will likely go through. Secretary Foxx admitted:
“These kind of recognitions are rare, and they probably should be. But they are important symbolic statements about the history of the state and the various personalities who’ve animated the state’s history.
Frankly, there are not a ton of examples of African-Americans who have been recognized, and these two are two of the very best who graced us with their presence in North Carolina.”
When contacted to discuss the proposal, NC Governor Roy Cooper endorsed the proclamation. He said in a statement:
“John Hope Franklin and Julius Chambers were men of great vision and purpose who gave so much to North Carolina, and this would be a fitting way for our state to honor them.”
Attorney Julius Chambers played a substantial role in school desegregation across the United States. Secretary Foxx praised him for:
Advancing “the rights of minorities and low income people through his tireless advocacy in the forms of litigation, scholarly research, and grass-roots activism, and enhanced racial equality throughout the nation and from his home state of North Carolina.”
He also extolled Franklin, a renowned academic and historian, and his work, saying:
He elevated “the cause of civil rights and the study of black history in the United States and weaving into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly.”
After signing the proclamations, one of the next steps Foxx took was to apprise relatives of the two icons. Franklin’s son, John Whittington Franklin, found about the honor via a text message Saturday morning. An employee of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, Mr. Franklin expressed surprise. He further indicated he was pleased, and he thanked Foxx.
Chamber’s son Derrick indicated he’d learned about the proclamations Thursday, Foxx’s last full day as transportation secretary. A Charlotte resident, Derrick described it as a great honor. He added:
“I feel it’s long overdue for someone who made history. I look back at all the work that my father did in my lifetime and I’m proud that he is not forgotten.”
Chambers died in 2013 at age 76. Over the course of his career he was involved as counsel in a number of celebrated cases as the lead partner in the Chambers, Stein, Ferguson, and Atkins Law Firm in Charlotte, North Carolina’s first integrated law firm. Among the cases he took challenging discrimination in education, employment, and government, included Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. The 1971 Supreme Court decision that arose from that case was pivotal in making busing a viable option for implementing school desegregation plans. During the most intense years of the civil rights movement, Chambers car was dynamited, his house was firebombed, and his office was torched. He later served as Director-Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (1984-1993).
Chambers enrolled at North Carolina Central University in 1954. He was the president of the student body at NCCU and graduated summa cum laude with an undergraduate degree in history in 1958. He earned a graduate degree in history from the University of Michigan. In 1959, he entered law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was the first African American editor-in-chief of the school’s law review and graduated first in his class of 100 students in 1962. Chambers also became the first African American to gain membership in the Order of the Golden Fleece, the University’s highest honorary society. In 1964, he earned his LL.M. from Columbia University Law School.
Franklin died in 2009 at the age of 94. He was a renowned African-American history scholar. In 1947, he authored “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans,” which is regarded as a seminal work on African-American history.
He served as legal researcher for the NAACP legal defense fund’s work on Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark Supreme Court case that led to desegregation of schools nationwide.
Franklin taught at a number of institutions, including North Carolina Central University and Duke University, both in Durham, NC. At Duke, he was a professor of history and a legal history professor at its law school. He was the first African-American to head the American Historical Association.
Then-President Clinton awarded Franklin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995. Two years later, Clinton tapped Franklin to lead the President’s Initiative on Race, a panel that was created to foster a national dialogue on the sensitive subject of race relations.
While it’s likely the highways will be renamed, Secretary Foxx’s actions don’t mean that Chambers and Franklin highway signs will go up soon. Applications must be filed with NCDOT requesting the changes, and a good deal of coordination must still take place. It is actually conceivable that the road in Mecklenburg County that ultimately bears Chambers’ name could be I-77 rather than I-85, because there are several names already in the pipeline.
I am delighted to join Secretary Foxx in saluting these two amazing men, both of whom share an incredible legacy that includes membership in one of my favorite organizations, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Meanwhile, Mr. Foxx Exits: But Not Before Kicking Off One Final Highway Project!
I’m done; holla back!
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