Civil rights attorney, author and preacher Fred Gray, who was the lawyer for Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., will headline the culmination of Hillcrest Church of Christ’s Black History Month programs on Feb. 24 and 25.
Gray’s autobiographical book “Bus Ride to Justice: The Life and Works of Fred D. Gray,” published in September 2002, documents legal challenges to an unfair justice system in the 1950s and 60s. He discusses his work with Parks, a personal friend whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man on Dec. 1, 1955, led to a 382-day boycott of Montgomery’s public bus system and the birth of the civil rights movement.
Gray, who grew up Montgomery, had to leave the state to finish his education because blacks could not attend Alabama law schools. When he returned home in 1954, he was one of two black lawyers in the city. He also represented freedom riders, and took cases fighting for voter registration, and against jury and employment discrimination.
Gray, 87, will speak at a program themed, “Crossroads: Where Do We Go From Here?” on Saturday and sign copies of his book between 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. His talk takes place during the church’s Expressive Writing and Art Competition for kindergartners to 12th-graders. He will also bring the message at the 10 a.m. worship service on Feb. 25, at Soul Food Sunday & Fellowship.
Gray, who was an elder and preacher in the Church of Christ, was one of the first black elected officials in Alabama since Reconstruction.
At age 12, he was sent to the Nashville Christian Institute, a boarding school ran by the Church of Christ, to become a preacher, then one of only two “respectable” jobs that were available to black men in the segregated South. When he left there, he said he knew “a little something about preaching,” but the pulpit was not his only life’s goal.
Gray, who got his law degree at Case Western Reserve University in 1954, said in a February 2016 interview on CSPAN, that he also had his sights set on the legal profession.
“I made a secret commitment that I kept secret for about 40 years, and that is, I was not only going to be a preacher, but I was going to become a lawyer,” he said. “Come back to Alabama, take the bar exam, become a lawyer and destroy everything segregated I could find.”
Nine months before he represented Parks, Gray defended Claudette Colvin, a student who was arrested on March 2, 1955, for refusing to give up her seat to a white person. He also sued the U.S. government on behalf of the African-American men who were exploited by the syphilis study at Tuskegee.
Hillcrest Church of Christ is at 1939 Snapfinger Road in Decatur.