VOL. 125 | NO. 93 | Thursday, May 13, 2010
Memphis Law Talk
Chambliss Tells Life Story In New Memoir
MARK SULLIVAN | Special to The Daily News
Growing up, books were a mainstay in Prince Chambliss Jr.’s household, and he always dreamed of writing one.
So it is no surprise now that he is a published author, he credits his parents, grandparents and other family members and friends for helping him succeed.
Chambliss, a partner in the Evans Petree Bogatin Law Firm, recently released “Prince of Peace: A Memoir Of An African American Attorney Who Came Of Age In Birmingham During The Civil Rights Movement.”
“The book is dedicated to those who traveled the road before me and those who will follow me,” Chambliss said. “Having practiced law for 30 years, I always wanted to write a book, which is a challenging process.
“It took a couple of years to complete, but I felt it was important to get my story down on paper and credit those who helped me along the way. I am proud of the finished product.”
People can do anything they set their minds to achieving, Chambliss said.
“When bad things happen – and they will – you must continue the journey, have a positive attitude and do not take ‘no’ for an answer,” he said. “My grandmother always challenged me.
“When I was 3 or 4 years old, she had me reciting the books of the Bible in front of church audiences. I was taught that education is the key and no one can ever take a quality education away from you.”
In the book, Chambliss recounts his early childhood in Birmingham during the civil rights movement. He was influenced by his paternal grandmother’s Seventh Day Adventist faith and his family’s membership in the Christian Methodist Episcopal church, which is based in Memphis.
Chambliss provides a glimpse of life in the then segregated South. He described how he was conflicted by his personal struggle with the civil rights issues and his own desire to continue his education to prepare for the future.
Like Angela Davis, the well-known activist of the 1960s and ’70s, who attended the same high school in Birmingham, Chambliss was also selected by a Quaker organization to live with a white family in the Northeast and complete his last two years of high school in an all-white suburban community.
However, his school admission faced opposition, but that was later reversed. In 1964, the New York Times wrote two stories on Chambliss’ difficulties in being allowed into the school because of opposition by the John Birch Society, and a story on the ultimate outcome.
Chambliss said he works hard to live up to the name Prince.
“I have loved being named Prince Jr.,” he said. “It is a special name originally selected by my grandmother for my father. After graduating from Harvard Law, I relocated to Memphis in 1976 because I could not get an attorney position even though I grew up in the state and served as the first black law clerk for a U.S. district judge. Breaking the color barrier was very difficult.”
Prior to joining Evans Petree Bogatin, Chambliss practiced law at Armstrong Allen for 25 years. At the time he was employed there in 1976, the firm was the largest in the state.
“When I became partner in 1981, I was the first black lawyer to attain that status with a majority law firm in Tennessee,” said Chambliss, who had attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., and earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
He served on the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners and retired as president in 2001.
“My grandfather, a 1907 graduate of Howard Law, was the first black law school graduate to be admitted to practice in Alabama,” he said. “My brother is a judge, and I have two uncles who are lawyers and several cousins and a nephew in the profession.
“The law has always had an important place in our family.”
Chambliss was also the first black president of the Memphis Bar Association.
Chambliss is married to Patricia Toney Chambliss and they have one daughter, Patience Chambliss Wiggins, a legislative assistant in Washington. She graduated from Howard Law exactly 100 years after her great-grandfather.
“In the book, I remind people of how little time has passed and yet how many changes have occurred,” Chambliss said. “I lived in one of the most socially transformative periods in American history, and continue to enjoy a great life. Everyone has a special story, unique gifts, and the ability to contribute greatly to society. It is important for those stories to be shared.”