Rosa Parks' attorney Fred Gray looks to civil rights history

Rosa Parks' attorney Fred Gray looks to civil rights history

May 10th, 2014 by Kevin Hardy in Local Regional News

Veteran civil rights attorney Fred Gray talks with Tim Mickel before speaking to the Chattanooga Bar Association Friday at the Mariott.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster/Times Free Press.

Alabama attorney Fred Gray's resume is full of civil rights history.

He represented Rosa Parks. He defended Martin Luther King Jr. And he helped victims of the Tuskegee Syphillis Study.

"Dr. Gray's client list is legendary," said Timothy Mickel, president of the Chattanooga Bar Association.

Gray addressed the group at its annual Law Day celebration, an event for Americans to learn "more about our law, our legal system and our rights."

Mickel said Gray will "long be remembered as the foremost civil rights attorney in Alabama and American history."

While Gray has worked with some of history's best-known civil rights leaders, his talk Friday focused on his first client, Claudette Colvin.

Fifteen-year-old Colvin had refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus nine months before Rosa Parks.

She wasn't the cause of major headlines and boycotts, but she was key to the movement.

"We may never have known a Mrs. Rosa Parks," Gray said. "Claudette gave the moral courage to all of us."

Parks' major stand and the ensuing Montgomery Bus Boycott didn't just happen, Gray said. Like many moments of progress, it took months of planning.

Though as a child, he intended to become a preacher and teacher, a professor convinced him to enter law school. During his time at what is now Case Western Reserve University, he made a private promise to himself: that he would return to Alabama and destroy everything segregated.

"For a black boy in Montgomery, Ala., to talk like that is certainly thinking out of the box," he said.

Racism and discrimination still persist, he said.

"It is wrong, and we need to do something about it," Gray told the lunch guests.

To do something, look to the work of civil rights leaders of previous decades, he said.

They had a plan. They were strategic.

To that end, Gray was central in opening the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multiculural Center to help educate people, especially younger generations, on the struggle.

"We have at least two generations of people who know nothing about white and colored waiting rooms and fountains and overt discrimination," he said. "They don't know it, but they need to know it."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.