In 1954, Parks helped Gray arrange his small headquarters at 113 Monroe St. and inside a 12 months he turned associates with King. Together, the trio had been in the entrance row of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which in 1956 introduced a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that abolished segregation on public buses. Four years later, Gray satisfied an all-white jury to acquit King on trumped-up tax evasion expenses.
Over the following many years, Gray would win instances that affirmed the one particular person, one vote precept; ensured safety for marchers from Selma to Montgomery; built-in the University of Alabama, Auburn University and all Alabama public educational institutions; introduced equal rights and protections to faculty college students; ended systematic exclusion of Blacks from juries; built-in public parks; and allowed the NAACP to function in the state. King known as Gray “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”
“He’s one of my heroes,” mentioned Pulitzer Prize-nominated historian Wayne Flynt. “I got to know him pretty well when I was writing ‘Alabama in the Twentieth Century,’ and I interviewed him, and I really, really admire him.”
Flynt mentioned Gray was by no means intimidated in the courtroom going through white attorneys, judges and witnesses throughout civil rights instances. Despite efforts by whites to embarrass Gray, the Montgomery lawyer “in an age of apartheid had more bone in his little finger than almost anyone I’ve ever known in their entire backbone,” Flynt mentioned.
“His attitude was not to confront you in the sense that most whites understand,” mentioned Flynt, Auburn University professor emeritus of historical past. “He was not going to raise his voice and he was not going to fling out profanities and he was not going to stomp his foot but what he was going to do is demand that you respect him as your equal.”
Gray stays sharp as a tack, persevering with to work as an lawyer for the 67th consecutive 12 months, going into his Tuskegee workplace every day and tackling instances as if he had been starting his profession. He doesn’t search shoppers however is consistently requested to present authorized experience. He hasn’t had a trip in years, until one counts when he was keynote speaker at conventions in locations the place folks trip.
Setting out as a 24-12 months-previous to “destroy everything segregated I could find,” Gray, by most any measuring stick, has achieved his lifelong purpose. Yet, he admits, the highway to freedom for Black Americans remains to be removed from being a freeway.
“I think that we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress in almost every aspect of American life,” Gray mentioned. “I’ve been able, with a lot of help along the way, to be instrumental to do some of that. However, the struggle for equal justice continues.”
Gray mentioned he was alarmed at incidents that fueled the Black Lives Matter motion of the previous 12 months. His issues had been amplified by the “mob that went up to the Capitol” on Jan. 6. He mentioned the nation has made apparent progress since Blacks had been introduced in chains to America 400 years in the past however that two main issues stay.
“Racism is not over; we don’t live on a level playing field,” he mentioned. “Secondly, inequality still exists. I don’t care what aspect you take, whether it’s in housing, whether it’s in employment, or whether it’s in health care or even the distribution of resources, they are not equal. … This country, up until now, has never faced the racism and the inequality questions. We just haven’t faced it.”
Born Dec. 13, 1930, one 12 months into the Great Depression, it didn’t take Gray lengthy to notice his predicament as a Black particular person on the poor facet of Montgomery. His father, Abraham, died when Gray was 2, leaving Nancy Gray with 5 youngsters and little earnings. His mom’s formal training ended after the fifth or sixth grade, however she relied on a non secular upbringing to cope. She labored as a “domestic” in the houses of white folks. Growing up on West Jeff Davis Avenue, Gray knew nothing in regards to the authorized occupation.
“When I was coming along as a child in the ’30s and the early ’40s, there were only about two professions that Black young men or boys on my side of town could do that were respectable positions; that would be a preacher or a teacher,” he mentioned. “And I decided that I would be both.”
The Grays repeatedly attended Holt Street Church of Christ, which was two blocks from the place Rosa Parks lived and in the identical space the place the bus boycott started. Fred Gray “used to baptize cats and dogs” in his neighborhood, which caught the eye of his preacher, Sutton Johnson. The Holt Street non secular chief advisable to Mrs. Gray that 12-12 months-previous Fred be enrolled in the National Christian Institute boarding faculty in Nashville, Tennessee. Gray would turn out to be a favourite of the varsity president, Marshall Keeble, who was a pioneer Black preacher nationally in the Church of Christ.
“I was actually pretty good at preaching, because he took me around at that early age … to all these churches in Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and we would preach and we would end up recruiting students,” Gray mentioned.
He graduated in 1948, returned to Montgomery and enrolled at Alabama State College for Negroes to turn out to be a trainer. Gray’s household had no automotive and, as a result of his mom’s house was on the west facet of city, he had to take metropolis buses to lessons on the faculty that’s now Alabama State University on the east facet of city.
“I found out then that Black people in Montgomery had some serious problems,” Gray mentioned. “One, they were being mistreated on the buses, being told to get up and give white people their seats. A Black man had been killed on one of the buses. I concluded that while I didn’t know anything about lawyers, and didn’t know any lawyers, I understood that lawyers help people solve problems, and I thought Black people in Montgomery had problems. … Everything was completely segregated and we were just mistreated in every aspect of life.”
Gray graduated from ASU in 1951, deciding he wished to be a preacher, trainer and lawyer. Because Blacks weren’t allowed to attend regulation colleges in Alabama, he utilized for and was admitted to Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. It was the primary time he had ever lived in a white setting. In 1954, he graduated and took the Ohio bar examination, then got here house and took the Alabama bar examination, passing each. On Sept. 7, 1954, Gray was licensed to observe in Alabama, changing into one of a handful of Black attorneys in the state.
Gray had been supported in his regulation faculty efforts by Parks, ASU professor J.E. Pierce, Montgomery civil rights activist E.D. Nixon and others. He’d adopted his mom’s directions to “Keep Christ first in your life, stay in school, get a good education and stay out of trouble.” She’d informed him it was tremendous to be a lawyer, however to by no means cease preaching. Gray would preach at Newtown Church of Christ in the midst of necessary early civil rights trials and he continues preaching at the moment.
Even earlier than the bus boycotts, Gray was being groomed for that historic stage. He’d hardly begun training when he was employed to symbolize 15-12 months-previous Claudette Colvin, who’d been arrested on March 2, 1955, for refusing to surrender her seat to a white particular person on a Montgomery metropolis bus.
“That was my first civil rights case, before Judge (Wiley) Hill. And I tried to explain to Judge Hill that she was not a delinquent … but they were trying to enforce the segregation laws, and they were unconstitutional, but the judge didn’t listen to me,” Gray mentioned laughing. “He was nice and respectful but he found her to be a delinquent and placed her on unsupervised probation, which meant that she didn’t have to report to anybody. She didn’t get involved in any more trouble.”
Parks and Gray had been having lunch collectively in his workplace, which was simply down the road from the place she labored as a seamstress for the Montgomery Fair division retailer. They talked for a 12 months in regards to the buses, desegregation, equity in society for Blacks and what wanted to be performed to overcome these issues.
“I knew that, though she never told me what she would do, I felt confident that she would not get up and give her seat if the situation arose,” Gray mentioned.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks didn’t surrender her seat.
Fifteen years later, Gray and Thomas Reed became the first Black members of the Alabama House of Representatives since Reconstruction. In 1970, Gray would turn out to be famous for his legislative experience and oratory, however 4 years earlier he had been set to make historical past alone, prior to some final-minute vote-counting.
“It came out that I was elected (in 1966),” Gray mentioned, “and then down in Barbour County, when the absentee votes came in, I had lost by the amount of votes that I had originally won by.”
After the loss, Gray determined to transfer from Montgomery to Black-majority Tuskegee, the place he arrange a regulation workplace and was elected to the state governing physique. Soon afterward, he realized of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and started representing the victims of the federal government effort in which Black males had been supplied free well being care with out being informed they suffered from the illness. Gray received a prolonged courtroom battle for the victims, which finally led to a public apology from President Bill Clinton. Gray wrote about his experiences in “The Tuskegee Syphilis Study” and his autobiography “Bus Ride to Justice.”
In his profession, Gray has been lauded nationwide, together with honorary doctorates from greater than 10 universities. He was the primary Black president of the Alabama Bar Association. He is in the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame. He acquired the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award. He was the National Bar Association president in 1985 and a decade later inducted into its Hall of Fame. Gray was named in 2019 as a “Living Legend” by the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and likewise as an Alabama Humanities Foundation Fellow.
Throughout his eight many years as a preacher, trainer and lawyer, Gray has credited his success to the earliest affect instilled by his mom.
“The Lord has played a major role in all of it,” he mentioned. “I wouldn’t handle a case that I didn’t think the Lord would be pleased with what I was doing. Because I had, first, to be sure that what I’m doing is not contrary to God’s law and, secondly, it’s not contrary to my own basic religious background. So, it played a major role in all of it.”
Gray’s authorized work and courtroom battles can be his legacy. He acknowledges his function in societal modifications because the Fifties has benefited Americans however Gray longs for extra to be performed in the nation he reveres.
“We need to, one, acknowledge the fact that racism and inequality is wrong, and that needs to start at the top. I’m glad the president (Biden) has taken a step in that direction,” Gray mentioned. “But it additionally wants to go from the Supreme Court, the CEOs, the heads of our instructional establishments, the heads of our fraternities and our sororities and the heads of our non secular organizations.
“We have to acknowledge that racism and inequality is wrong,” Gray added. “We have to come up with a plan … and while we talk about it starting at the top, we must also, every one of us individually, needs to realize that racism and inequality is so ingrained in this nation.”
Over his profession, Gray has dealt with 1000’s of lawsuits. Legal precedent finds his identify alongside some of an important instances in Alabama and American historical past. Cuba Gooding Jr. portrayed him in the film “Selma,” persuading federal Judge Frank Johnson to enable King and others to march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. It was a milestone choice, but authorized specialists and historians typically debate about which of Gray’s instances is most necessary.
“When a person comes to a lawyer’s office, they usually have a problem,” Gray mentioned. “And they don’t care what number of instances you received or misplaced, all they need you to do is to commit effort to him and his case and get him the outcomes he thinks he’s entitled to, whether or not he’s legally entitled to it or not. I believe all of my instances are an important case I’ve had.
During Black History Month, Alabama NewsMiddle is celebrating the tradition and contributions of those that have formed our state and people working to elevate Alabama at the moment. Visit AlabamaNewsCenter.com all through the month for tales of Alabamians previous and current.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)