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Alumni Honored with N.C. State Highway Namings

Mattie Sharpless, '65, '72, former U.S. Ambassador to the Central African Republic
The late NCCU Chancellor Emeritus Julius Chambers, '58

Two NCCU alumni, Former United States Ambassador to the Central African Republic Mattie Sharpless, ’65, ’72, and the late NCCU Chancellor Emeritus Julius Chambers, ’58, will be honored in May with a portion of two North Carolina state highways bearing their names.  

On Thursday, May 10 at the Manhollow Missionary Baptist Church in Hampstead, N.C., the N.C. Department of Transportation unveiled the Ambassador Mattie R. Sharpless Highway, a section of U.S. Highway 17. 

On Thursday, May 24, 2:30 p.m., at the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, the N.C. Department of Transportation will formally dedicate the Julius Chambers Highway, a section of I-85 from the I-77 interchange to the I-85 Connector. 

Sharpless was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to the Central African Republic (CAR) on October 23, 2001, in a magnificent ceremony, which launched her off to the ultimate achievement of her Foreign Service career. Sharpless has had a distinguished career in foreign agricultural trade relations, both in Washington and abroad, since joining the Foreign Agricultural Service in 1965.

Prior to her appointment as Ambassador, she served as acting administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) where she was responsible for overseeing and administering programs to expand export opportunities for U.S. agricultural and forest products, and to promote food security worldwide.

From 1999 to 2001, Sharpless served as special envoy to emerging economies. In this role, she focused on the development of new markets, with particular emphasis on USDA’s initiatives to strengthen the economic partnership with Sub-Saharan Africa and its integration into the world trading system. In her foreign assignments, Sharpless covered agricultural trade affairs in the American Embassies in Paris, France, Rome, Italy, and Bern Switzerland; at the U.S. Mission to the European Union, Brussels, Belgium; and at the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, France.

The Hampstead, N.C. native earned a bachelor’s degree in business education and also a master’s degree in business administration and economics from NCCU. She is the recipient of numerous performance awards and citations, including the prestigious Presidential Distinguished Service Award and the Presidential Meritorious Service Award among others.

Chambers was the first alumnus to serve as NCCU’s chancellor, a position he held from 1993 to 2001. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from NCCU in 1958. He also earned a Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Michigan. Chambers studied law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received the LLB degree with high honors in 1962.

Chambers was also known for his work as a civil rights advocate. He established North Carolina’s first integrated law firm in Charlotte and the firm became a leading national advocate for civil rights, voting rights and workers’ rights. He won eight cases in the Supreme Court, including the landmark 1971 case that led to integration of the schools in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. From 1984 to 1993, he also served as director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

As NCCU’s chancellor from 1993 to 2001, Chambers led efforts for significant expansion of the university’s scope and mission. The Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute on NCCU’s campus bears his name. During his administration, the university launched a $50 million capital fundraising campaign and established its first ten endowed chairs, including the Charles Hamilton Houston Endowed Chair at the School of Law.

Chambers retired from NCCU on June 30, 2001, and reentered private practice with the firm he started, now known as Ferguson Chambers & Sumter, P.A. In 2002, Chambers became director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights at the UNC School of Law. Chambers died in 2013 at the age of 76. 

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