Julius Chambers, a Charlotte attorney whose practice was in the forefront of the civil rights movement in North Carolina, has died, his law firm said Saturday. He was 76.
A statement issued by his law firm, Ferguson Chambers & Sumter, said Chambers died Friday after months of declining health. A specific cause of death wasn't given.
"Mr. Chambers was not the first lawyer of color to try to address the issues of equality," firm partner Geraldine Sumter said Saturday. "He would tell you he had people like Buddy Malone of Durham that he looked to, the Kennedys out of Winston-Salem. The thing that Mr. Chambers brought to that struggle was a very focused, determined attitude that things were going to change."
In 1964, Chambers opened a law practice that became the state's first integrated law firm. He and his partners won cases that shaped civil rights law, including Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education regarding school busing.
The 1971 ruling in the case mandated crosstown busing and highlighted the power of federal courts to intervene when local public school systems hedged en route to full integration. The case came as then-Gov. Bob Scott had just taken office. Although Chambers won the case, Scott had already pledged that he wouldn't allow state money to be spent for busing.
"Chambers probably, being one of those lawyers rooted in the South, was able to see the inequities more clearly because they were so stark here in the late 60s and '70s," Sumter said.
The Charlotte Observer reports that Chambers took eight cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and won them all.
Chambers also served as chancellor of his alma mater, North Carolina Central University, from 1993 to 2001. Sumter said he cared about young people no matter where he went.
"I have never gone anywhere with Chambers where he didn't approach a young person and ask them what's your name, where are you from, who are your people, where are you going to school," she said. "It brought him joy and satisfaction that young black people were doing well and trying to go forward."
Among his survivors are two children, three grandchildren and a brother.
Funeral arrangements haven't been completed.