Fred Gray, legendary civil rights lawyer and activist, was honored Feb. 4 with the placement of a historic marker in downtown Montgomery. The marker celebrates Fred’s work in pursuit of civil rights. His clients included Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The marker was placed at the corner of Dexter Avenue and Hull Street in downtown Montgomery where Fred’s law offices were once located. The site is now the location of Alabama’s highest court, the Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building.
Fred represented Ms. Parks and Ms. Colvin in 1955 after they were charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to give up their seats on Montgomery city busses to white passengers. The action led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which drew national attention to the civil rights movement. Fred also represented participants of the Selma-to-Montgomery March, which eventually led to the passage of the Voters Rights Act of 1965. He is depicted in the new movie, Selma, released just prior to the 50th anniversary of the march.
In addition to his civil rights work, Fred was an advocate on behalf of survivors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which the federal government withheld medical treatment for syphilis from hundreds of black men. They suffered horribly as a result of being used as human guinea pigs to study the effects of the disease. The marker reads:
Fred David Gray
Civil Rights Attorney and Legislator
Born in 1930 in Montgomery, Gray was among the foremost civil rights attorneys of the 20th century. Forced by segregation to leave Alabama to attend law school, he vowed to return and “destroy everything segregated I could find.” Over a six-decade career, his cases desegregated transportation, education, housing, law enforcement, public accommodations, and government. In the U.S. Supreme Court, Browder v. Gayle won the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Gomillion v. Lightfoot ended gerrymandering of Tuskegee and set the stage for “one man, one vote.” Lee v. Macon desegregated all Alabama public elementary and secondary schools. Dixon v. Alabama extended the rights of college students. His clients included Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Vivian Malone, Harold Franklin, Freedom Riders, Selma-to-Montgomery marchers, and Tuskegee Syphilis Study victims. In 1970, he and Thomas Reed were the first African Americans since Reconstruction elected to the Alabama Legislature. In 2002, he was the first African American president of the Alabama Bar Association.
Honored guests assembled for the marker unveiling included elected officials, business leaders and friends. Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange presented Fred with a key to the city. In his remarks, Fred had this to say:
In addition to those acknowledged by this marker, I extend thanks on behalf of all of my clients and all others, unknown he-roes whose names never appeared in print media and whose faces never appear on television; these are the persons who laid the foundation so that you may honor civil rights heroes.
Fred and I have been very good friends for years. He is an outstanding lawyer and a good man. Fred Grey will go down in history as a great American and a man who was on the right side of important issues that helped shape our nation’s future. Fortunately, he is still hard at work!
Sources: Montgomery Advertiser, al.com, WSFA
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