Alabama State University historian talks about legacy of Fred Gray

Montgomery native Fred Gray will receive the presidential medal of freedom. Nominated by...
Montgomery native Fred Gray will receive the presidential medal of freedom. Nominated by Congresswoman Terri Sewell, this medal is among the highest civilian awards in the nation.(Erin Davis)
Published: Jul. 6, 2022 at 7:44 PM EDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Montgomery native and civil rights attorney Fred Gray will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Nominated by Congresswoman Terri Sewell, this medal is among the highest civilian awards in the nation.

At 91 years old, Gray is the brain behind several court cases that shaped the modern civil rights movement. He’s still practicing law, but it’s his lifetime of dedication to human rights that makes him deserving of this medal.

Gray credits his work as a civil rights attorney to his alma mater Alabama State University.

“Sometimes we do have someone who is local, and you don’t really understand the national-international impact that lives have had,” said Howard Robinson, a university archivist.

And that someone is Gray.

“He was in his mid-20s arguing cases at you know, at the highest level in the federal court system,” said Robinson.

After graduating from law school, Gray returned to Alabama to start his historic career as the legal mind behind several pivotal civil rights cases.

“Cases that led to the desegregation of, of all schools in the state of Alabama. And he made he argued cases dealing with Tuskegee syphilis, study, argued cases dealing with just just a whole myriad of really important social issues,” said Robinson.

Robinson says Gray is among heroes such as Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lewis. At 91, Gray is the one still alive and Robinson tells me it’s a reflection of how not long ago their activism took place.

“The people who push this nation towards that realization, you know, walked past his walk amongst us, and in the instance of Fred Gray, still walk amongst us,” said Robinson.

Gray and the state can still see the fruits of his labor.

“You walk through this community and visit the public library, or take your child to school, or attend school yourself, or when you go to your job to be a civil service job, or a job in a private sector,” said Robinson.

Robinson says when people do those things or even look at a paved street in a Black neighborhood, they should think of civil rights leaders like Gray

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