Fred Gray

Fred Gray is an attorney, preacher and former elected official who defended Rosa Parks and led a number of Alabama key cases during the Civil Rights Movement.


Born on December 14, 1930, in Montgomery, Alabama, Fred Gray studied law at Case Western before defending both Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks in the quest to desegregate his home city's bus lines, later becoming a key figure in African-American voting rights and school integration. He also filed suit against the government on behalf of the men exploited by the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

Early Life and Education

Lawyer, preacher, state representative and civil rights activist Fred David Gray Sr. was born on December 14, 1930, in Montgomery, Alabama. His father died when he was a toddler, and his mother sent the young Gray to school early. He excelled at academics and attended the Nashville Christian Institute boarding school, run by the Church of Christ. He went on to attend Alabama State College, where he graduated in 1951, and then pursued his law degree at Case Western Reserve University.

Defense for Colvin and Parks

Gray had made a promise to himself that he would work diligently to end racial segregation in his home city upon becoming a lawyer. In 1955, he took on the cases of Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks, who were both charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to give up their seats on a bus to white passengers. Parks's case sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted for more than a year and led to the desegregation of the bus lines.

Gray married Bernice Hill in 1956, and the couple went on to have four children.

Lawyer in Pivotal Case

Gray handled a number of major, key cases in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1960's Gomillion v. Lightfoot, he argued before the Supreme Court the unconstitutionality of Tuskegee-based rezoning laws created by local officials that would leave African-Americans out of elections. In another Supreme Court case, Gray was diligent in his efforts to have the NAACP be able to organize in Alabama after the group was outlawed in the state.

Gray was also instrumental in leading cases and filing lawsuits that led to the desegregation of all public institutions of higher learning along with the creation of an order requesting the integration of elementary and secondary schools.

Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Gray was an instrumental figure in another historic case, that of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. In the early 1930s, hundreds of African-American male citizens with syphilis were the subject of an experiment led by the U.S. Public Health Service seeking to look at the effects of the disease on a population. The men weren't told of the study nor given appropriate medical treatment, and thus were left untreated for decades.

Gray filed a suit on the men's behalf, receiving millions of dollars in a 1975 settlement and proper care for his surviving clients. President Bill Clinton offered an apology on the government's behalf in 1997 and an acknowledgment of what had happened. The same year saw the establishment of the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center, which Gray became president of in the new millennium.

Preacher and Honored Official

In addition to his legal career, Gray had also served as a preacher at the Newtown Church of Christ for around a decade and a half, starting in 1957. He also took a foray into politics, winning a 1970 election to be an Alabama state representative and holding the seat until 1974. He was nominated to be a federal judge by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, but withdrew his name after a conservative backlash.

He has since received an array of accolades and became president of the National Bar Association in 1985, later becoming the first African-American president of the Alabama Bar Association (2002). In 1995, Gray published his autobiography, Bus Ride to Justice: The Life and Works of Fred Gray.

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