Over the years there have been a number of individuals in America whose lives on this earth have made a tremendous difference for good in the lives of others. Tuskegee lawyer Fred Gray is such a person. Without a doubt, this man made a huge difference in how people of color are treated in the United States. Fred Gray fought for the rights of African-Americans in this country at a time when those rights were universally being denied.
While I had read and heard lots about Fred, I didn’t actually meet him until I moved back to Clayton in the Fall of 1964. That first meeting came about in Eufaula at a call of the civil case court docket. I later had a civil case in Clayton and Fred was one of the defense lawyers. I got to know him much better during that trial. I was very impressed with Fred on each of those occasions both as a lawyer and as a man. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Fred was how down-to-earth and unassuming he was, considering that he was already developing a national reputation. Fred had handled a number of notable civil rights cases by that time.
Fred Gray has made a name for himself as a champion for real change in America. The early battles for equality and civil rights were most difficult for those who were on the front lines. Being involved quite often came at a tremendous cost. It took great courage to do that which men and women like Fred Gray did. I am told that Fred made a promise to himself that he would work diligently to end racial segregation in Montgomery upon becoming a lawyer. Not only did Fred keep that promise, he expanded his territory greatly and America is better for it today.
Fred has received an array of accolades over the years. He became president of the National Bar Association in 1985, later becoming the first African-American president of the Alabama Bar Association in 2002. In 1995, Fred published his autobiography, Bus Ride to Justice: The Life and Works of Fred Gray. I have a signed copy, which I consider a prized possession, and I recommend it to all persons who believe in liberty and justice for all citizens. I am privileged to say that I have known Fred Gray and that he is a good friend.
We need more men and women today who have the courage needed to help bring about even more change in America and continue the fight for equality, liberty and justice for all. Fred Gray can be a role model for them. I thank God for bringing Fred into the battle early in his career and for sustaining him over the years. Fortunately, Fred is still engaged in this battle and that has to be an inspiration to younger persons who share his zeal and dedication to a worthy cause.
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