“Quiet Spirit”: Josephine Chambliss remembered for her lasting impact

Published 9:32 am Monday, January 20, 2020

Josephine Johnson Chambliss, longtime educator in the Oxford School District, is being fondly remembered for her role in shaping the minds of her students. 

Chambliss first came to Oxford with her husband, famed civil rights attorney Alvin O. Chambliss, Jr., in the late 1970s. She joined the staff at Oxford High School, where she taught math to hundreds of students, even tutoring them for free after-hours in areas of math that went beyond the realm of her daily coursework.  

“Nobody in the world knows her better than me. Josephine was a quiet leader,” Alvin said. “Her position was, the best way to be a teacher is to be a teacher 24 hours a day. (Her memorial services) are all about education; filling in the gap and mending it. 

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She remained an employee with OSD until her retirement in 1993, but her educational legacy continued long after. Chambliss died on Jan. 13, 2020, at the age of 79.  

During her storied lifetime, Chambliss faced her share of adversity, pursuing doctorate degrees at Tulane and at Berkley, the latter in which she was the only African-American enrollee. She studied two years before suffering a brain aneurism that forced her to take a step back from continuing education. 

Since her passing, dozens of former students have taken to social media to express their sympathies and share the many ways Chambliss influenced their lives.  

Her eldest daughter, Sadarie Chambliss Holston, said her mother’s legacy has been impressed upon her, as well as her siblings, as they began to return home to Oxford in the wake of her passing. 

What makes her story (so interesting) is that, my father’s been very vocal in civil rights and it’s in that arena on a national level, but my mom was such a quiet spirit,” Holston said. And she was so impactful in a job that most people don’t do. That’s what makes this important.” 

In his storied career as a civil rights attorney, Alvin O. Chambliss, Jr., successfully argued before the Supreme Court in the Ayers case. He also served as the Mississippi Director for the NAACP, something Holston said she was especially proud of.  

Through it all, father and daughter agreed, their matriarch kept the family together. 

It transcends race… she had a quiet and a strong presence. She wasn’t necessarily, in the vernacular, as ‘Hollywood’ as my father, but I think coming home to Oxford is so impactful,” Holston said. “The fact that people are (remembering her) from all backgrounds… it transcends any boundaries. 

In addition to the four children they raised together, Chambliss and her husband adopted seven more, and helped 25 more individuals achieve their dreams of a college education.  

I think it’s encouraging how impactful you can be, and not necessarily be on the pages of Facebook or be in the headlines, but being a person who touched so many lives,” Holston said. 

Chambliss’s funeral service was held Sunday at 2 p.m. at Second Missionary Baptist church with burial following in Oxford Memorial Cemetery.