During the summer of 1970, James Ferguson is appointed as a “private prosecutor” to assist in the murder case against Robert and Larry Teel, who killed Henry Marrow, a 23-year-old black veteran in Oxford, North Carolina. In the wake of the killing of Marrow, Oxford was engulfed in a conflagration of violence and unrest. Despite the remarkable efforts by the young Mr. Ferguson, whose legal prowess was captured in the highly acclaimed book about the incident, Blood Done Sign My Name, by Timothy B. Tyson, the all-white jury acquitted the Teels.
On October 12, 1970, Julius Chambers argues Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed. in the United States Supreme Court.
On December 14, 1970, Julius Chambers argues Griggs v. Duke Power Company the United States Supreme Court.
On February 4, 1971, the law office of Chambers Stein Ferguson & Lanning is destroyed by arson. At the time of the fire, the firm has 33 desegregation suits pending before courts all across the State of North Carolina, in addition to the Swann case pending in the United States Supreme Court. The Charlotte Observer’s editorial page remarks: “This community surely abhors and condemns the cowardly act of arson at the offices of civil rights lawyer Julius L. Chambers, a man who does not merely sloganize ‘law and order’ but lives it.” Unsolicited donations to the firm pour in from various sources. Says one contributor: “Julius Chambers and his partners have a lot of guts, and some of us who don’t have their ability nor their inclination still wanted to do something to repair the damage.”
On March 8, 1971, the United States Supreme Court decides Griggs v. Duke Power Company, 401 U.S. 424 (1971). The firm represented Willie Griggs, who filed a class action on behalf of several fellow African-American employees against his employer Duke Power Company. Griggs challenged Duke’s “inside” transfer policy, requiring employees who want to work in all but the company’s lowest paying Labor Department to register a minimum score on two separate aptitude tests in addition to having a high school education. Griggs claimed that Duke’s policy discriminated against African-American employees in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. On appeal from a district court’s dismissal of the claim, the Court of Appeals found no discriminatory practices. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed 8-0 in favor of Griggs and his co-plaintiffs. The Court concluded that the subtle, illegal, purpose of Duke’s requirements was to safeguard Duke's long-standing policy of giving job preferences to its white employees.
On March 19, 1971, Charles Becton and Jim Lanning secure a not guilty verdict for John A. Chambers, the first African-American hired by the Carthage Police Department in Moore County, who was charged with the murder of a local white business owner. The trial was racially charged and the courtroom had to be secured to protect the client and his attorneys.
On April 20, 1971, the United States Supreme Court decides Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 402 U.S. 1 (1971), in a 9-0 decision in favor of the firm's clients, holding that once violations of previous mandates directed at desegregating schools had occurred, the scope of district courts’ equitable powers to remedy past wrongs were broad and flexible.
In the aftermath of the Swann decision and the institution of busing in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the firm represents scores of high school students charged with some form of assault or rioting due to the racial tension in schools.
On the same day in June 1971, the firm prevails in the United States Supreme Court by overturning the death sentences of four clients: Marie Hill, Robert Lewis Roseboro, Albert Bobby Childs, and Perry Sanders.
In November 1971, Julius Chambers is named by Governor Bob Scott and the trustees of North Carolina Central University to the Board of Governors of the new university system. Mr. Chambers subsequently resigns from the Board of Governor’s because of his objection to the board’s views on whether there were enough qualified black high school graduates in the state to increase black enrollment in the state’s predominantly white universities by 1982.
In July 1972, James Ferguson defends the Charlotte 3 in Mecklenburg County Superior Court. The Charlotte 3 -- James Earl Grant, Jr., Thomas James Reddy, and Charles Parker -- were charged with the felonious burning of a barn at the Lazy B Riding Stables in Charlotte on September 24, 1968. Grant, Reddy, and Parker were convicted and sentenced to 25, 20, and 10 years respectively. Although the defense contended the testimonies of the key witnesses conflicted and the jury of eleven whites and one black was unfair, the convictions were upheld by both the state's Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. In March 1974, the Charlotte Observer revealed that the state's two key witnesses, Walter David Washington and Theodore Alfred Hood -- both facing criminal charges themselves -- had previously implicated themselves in the events occurring in Oxford, North Carolina around the same time (which led to the prosecution of the Wilmington 10, described below). It was later revealed that, in return for their statements against the Charlotte 3, Hood and Washington were given immunity from federal prosecution for the Oxford occurrence, would be placed in protective custody, and would receive relocation money after the federal trial. The defense filed a motion in July 1974, requesting a new trial in Mecklenburg Superior Court, and Reddy was released from jail on bond. An evidentiary hearing before Judge Sam Ervin III in December 1974, resulted in his denial, in September, 1975, of a new trial. Appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court were all denied, and in October 1978, Reddy returned to jail. In July 1979, Governor Jim Hunt commuted the sentences of the Charlotte Three, and Reddy was released on parole.
In September 1972, James Ferguson defends the Wilmington 10 in Pender County Superior Court. Each of the ten named defendants (nine black men and one white woman) was charged with fire bombing Mike's Grocery Store in Wilmington, North Carolina, on February 6, 1971, and with conspiring to assault emergency personnel, law enforcement officers, and firemen with firearms. The cases were transferred from New Hanover County to Pender County due to unfavorable pretrial publicity. All ten defendants were convicted and sentenced to a total of 282 years. The firm continued to fight for its clients, and the Wilmington Ten case soon aroused national and international outrage. In early 1977, the CBS news program 60 Minutes ran a feature on the Wilmington Ten, suggesting that the evidence against them had been fabricated. James Baldwin and other celebrities protested the convictions and lengthy prison terms. In 1978, Amnesty International cited the Wilmington Ten as the first official case of political prisoners in the United States. After the state courts refused to dismiss the charges, North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt was under great pressure to pardon the prisoners. In January 1978, in an address broadcast throughout the state, Hunt refused to release the Wilmington Ten, but did reduce their sentences. The case finally came to a close a couple of years later, on December 4, 1980, when the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decided Chavis v. State of North Carolina, 637 F.2d 213 (4th Cir. 1980), which overturned the convictions, exonerating the Wilmington Ten.