Vance H. Chavis was born January 14, 1906, in Wadesboro, North Carolina. He was educated in the Anson County School System and attended the High School Department of Biddle University (now Johnson C. Smith University). He continued his education at Johnson C. Smith University, earning a bachelor of science degree. At North Carolina Central University he received a master's degree in Public Health. He also studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, North Carolina A&T State University, and the University of Wisconsin.
Chavis taught physics, general science, and biology at James B. Dudley High School from 1929 to 1955. He was appointed assistant principal at Lincoln Junior High School in 1955 and in 1957 was promoted to principal. Chavis remained in that position until his retirement in June 1969.
Chavis was known first as an educator but was also a leader in the local civil rights movement. He was an early member of the NAACP in the 1930s, and in 1949 was integral in organizing the Greensboro Citizens Association. He was also an active member of the Democratic Party at both state and local levels, serving on the state Democratic executive committee and as a precinct chairman. From 1969 to 1973, he was a member of the Greensboro City Council.
Chavis received numerous awards and honors, including Johnson C. Smith University’s Alumni Centennial Award for outstanding achievement in community relations and a certificate of meritorious service from the City of Greensboro for his efforts on the Redevelopment Commission; Chavis was the first African American male in the United States to be appointed to a redevelopment commission. The Southeast Branch of the Greensboro Public Library was renamed in his honor. Vance H. Chavis died on November 30, 1998, at the age of 92.