University of Alabama awards civil rights lawyer Fred David Gray an honorary Doctor of Laws degree

He couldn’t go, but civil rights pioneer and lawyer Fred David Gray now has an honorary doctorate in law from the University of Alabama. He accepted the degree during the recent Law School commencement ceremony.

As one of the most prolific civil rights attorneys in Alabama and United States history, Gray successfully represented Viviane Malone and James Hood in their quest to enroll in the UA in 1963, playing an indispensable role in the legal desegregation of public education not only in Alabama, but across the country. Among the many others he represented during his career were claimants in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.participants in the Selma Marsas well as the participants and the families of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study class action.

“I am honored, grateful, and honored that the University of Alabama awarded me an honorary Doctor of Laws today,” Gray said. “When I was growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, the birthplace of the Confederacy, I knew little about the University of Alabama except that it was a university for whites and African Americans were not allowed to attend. It has special meaning to me because when I filed the Vivian Malone case against the University of Alabama, I never imagined that 59 years later it would honor me as it is today. My only concern was to open the doors for African Americans to attend.

Fred Gray in 1956. The lawyer was still in his twenties when he represented Montgomery Bus Boycott activists. (contributed)

Although he is originally from Alabama and remains true to his lifelong commitment to civil rights in Alabama and the South, Gray earned his Juris Doctorate from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio, because there was no law school in the state of Alabama at the time—including UA—that would accept blacks.

“We are honored to commemorate Mr. Gray’s direct role in desegregating the University of Alabama and ushering in a new era for our law school,” said Mark E. Brandon, Dean of AU Law School. “The significance of presenting this honorary degree to Mr. Gray today is amplified because this ceremony marks the 50th anniversary since Michael Figures, Booker Forte Jr. and Ronald E. Jackson became the first African-American students to graduate. their graduation from the University of Alabama School of Law.”

Gray was born in Montgomery in 1930. As a student at Alabama State Universityhe swore to “destroy all that is separated [he] could find.” After graduating from Case Western Reserve University Law School, Gray returned to Montgomery and worked as a preacher in churches of Christ and as a lawyer. He later served in the political arena. and was one of the first two African-American candidates elected to the Alabama Legislative Assembly since Reconstruction.

Gray has received numerous accolades over the years and has held prominent leadership positions. From 1985 to 1986, he was president of the National Bar Associationnm Gray was elected the first African American President of the State Bar of Alabama in 2002. In 2006, he received the William Robert Ming Advocacy Award by the NAACP.

Gray is the author of “Bus Ride to Justice: The Life and Works of Fred Gray” and “The Tuskegee Syphilis Study: An Insider’s Account of the Shocking Medical Experiment Conducted by Government Doctors Against African-American Men.” He is also co-author of a new book, “Alabama v. King”, which will be available later this month.

This information originally appeared on the University of Alabama website.

Jon J. Epps