Alabama civil rights attorney Fred Gray Sr. will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, President Joe Biden announced today.
Gray, 91, built his legendary career at the forefront of battles to end segregation, representing Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin, the victims of the Tuskegee syphilis study, and the NAACP, among many others. Parks called Gray “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”
Gray, a Montgomery native who still practices law, represented the plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, the case that in the US Supreme Court’s decision in 1956 outlawing segregation on city buses, the case growing out of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He litigated other landmark cases on school desegregation and racial gerrymandering of political districts.
Gray issued a statement this morning through the office of US Rep. Terri Sewell, who wrote Biden last year asking the president to choose Gray for the award. Gray thanked Biden and Sewell and encouraged Americans to continue to strive for justice and equality.
“This award means a great deal to me, an African American civil rights lawyer who was born in the ghettos of Montgomery, Alabama,” Gray said. “It speaks volumes to Civil Rights workers who have dedicated their talents and resources toward improving the quality of life of Americans in this country; and it speaks directly to African Americans in general.
“When I filed the various civil rights cases from 1955 to date, I was concerned about African Americans receiving the same constitutional rights as all other Americans. We have made substantial progress but the struggle for the elimination of racism and for equal justice continues. I hope this award will encourage other Americans to do what they can to complete the task so that all American citizens will be treated the same, equally