Julius Chambers, civil rights attorney, dies at 76

August 4, 2013

Julius Chambers, a Charlotte attorney whose practice was in the forefront of the civil rights movement in North Carolina, died Friday. He was 76.

A statement issued by his law firm, Ferguson Chambers & Sumter, confirmed the death but did not cite a cause.

In 1964, Mr. Chambers opened the practice that became the state’s first integrated law firm. The Charlotte Observer reported that Mr. Chambers took eight cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and won them all, including the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education school busing case.

The 1971 Supreme Court ruling in Swann mandated crosstown busing and highlighted the power of federal courts to intervene when public school systems hedged en route to full integration.

“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,” Geraldine Sumter, a law partner at Mr. Chambers’s firm, said.


This 1975 photo shows Julius L. Chambers, newly elected president of the NAACP legal Defense Fund, in New York. Chambers, a Charlotte attorney whose practice was in the forefront of the civil rights movement in North Carolina, died Aug. 2. He was 76. (AP/AP)

Mr. Chambers was born in Mount Gilead, N.C.

He graduated summa cum laude in 1958 from what is now North Carolina Central University. He received a master’s degree in history from the University of Michigan and studied law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from which he graduated with high honors in 1962.

Mr. Chambers served as chancellor of North Carolina Central University from 1993 to 2001.

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP called Chambers “a man of tremendous courage.”

“His home and his car were firebombed on separate occasions in 1965, and his office was burned to the ground in 1971, during the height of some of his most contentious civil rights litigation in North Carolina,” the NAACP said in a statement.

“When he spoke of these events, Mr. Chambers was typically matter-of-fact, insisting always that you ‘just keep fighting,’ ” the organization said.

Mr. Chambers’s wife, Vivian, died last year.

Survivors include two children, a brother and three grandchildren.

— Associated Press

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