Charlotte law firm Ferguson Stein Chambers Gresham & Sumter has received the 2009 Echo Foundation award for its work in advancing civil rights – the first time an organization, rather than an individual, has won the honor.

The firm took a lead role in arguing the 1971 Supreme Court case Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, which helped bring an end to racial segregation in public schools. It also fought to bring minority representation to congressional redistricting.

The Echo Foundation said Ferguson Stein Chambers “did more in its first decade to influence federal civil rights law than any other private law practice in the United States.”

The Echo Award Against Indifference is given each year to honor ethical decision-making, the promotion of tolerance and the preservation of human dignity.

Henderson Hill, a partner with the firm, said: “It’s just a remarkable place. We are just a collection of people who are very sensitive to challenges to human freedom, equality and dignity.”

Founded by Julius Chambers on East Trade Street in 1964, the firm became the first integrated practice in North Carolina history.

The keynote speaker at the Echo Foundation’s 12th annual award dinner will be Dr. Paul Farmer, renowned for his work changing healthcare practices in poverty-stricken areas such as Haiti. Through the “One by One by One” project, Farmer is working with Charlotte-area students and adults to teach them how individuals can help improve the standard of living in struggling regions worldwide.

The Echo Foundation was founded in 1997 after Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel came to Charlotte that year with a call for human dignity, justice and moral courage.

The foundation brings speakers to Charlotte to demonstrate how one person can make a difference for humanity. Past speakers have included Rwandan Bishop John Rucyahana and Africa policy expert John Prendergast, Doctors Without Borders founder Bernard Kouchner and Chinese dissident Harry Wu.

The Echo award dinner will be at 6 p.m. March 3 at the Hilton Charlotte.

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