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North Carolina attorney and rights activist Julius Chambers dies at 76

By Francesca Trianni

(Reuters) - Julius Chambers, a North Carolina attorney who helped to shape U.S. civil rights law, died aged 76 on Friday after battling declining health, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal Defense Fund said in a statement.

Chambers and his partners argued landmark civil rights cases related to de-segregation and voting rights before the United States Supreme Court, according to the NAACP.

They included Swann v. the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education in 1971, which led to cross-town student bus transit that helped to integrate local schools.

"He was a man of tremendous courage," the NAACP said in a statement.

His firm, founded in 1964, was the first racially integrated law practice in the southern U.S. state, according to the Charlotte Observer.

"He believed that regardless of one's position, status, race, creed, color, religion or gender, everyone has an obligation to ensure equality for all," Attorney James Ferguson, a partner at Chambers' firm, told a news conference on Saturday.

Chambers graduated first in his class at the University of North Carolina School of Law and was the first African-American editor-in-chief of its law review, according to the NAACP.

In the mid-1980s, he became president and chair of the board of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a position he held for nine years, and in 1993 he was made Chancellor at his college alma mater, North Carolina Central University, the NAACP said.

His wife, Vivian, died last year, and he had two children, according to the NAACP.

(This story has been refiled to add byline)

(Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Pravin Char)

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