Civil Rights attorney Fred Gray to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Gray represented the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, John Lewis and others
Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 11:02 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Famed Montgomery attorney Fred Gray Sr. will finally receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, according to Rep. Terri Sewell, D-District 7.

Sewell’s office had been lobbying the White House for more than a year to bestow the honor upon the 91-year-old, whose storied career includes representation of the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, John Lewis and others.

“Words cannot describe my excitement,” Sewell said in a statement announcing the honor. “From the very beginning, I’ve known that there is no one more deserving of our nation’s highest civilian honor than Attorney Gray whose trailblazing work helped end segregation and advance a more equitable future. Attorney Gray is one of the most consequential civil rights lawyers of our time.”

LIST: Medal of Freedom recipients who will be honored on July 7

A number of well-known people will be honored by the White House, including some posthumously.

Sewell’s office also shared reaction from Gray, who still practices law in Tuskegee, after he learned the news.

“This award means a great deal to me, an African American civil rights lawyer who was born in the ghettos of Montgomery, Alabama,” Gray explained. “It speaks volumes to Civil Rights workers who have devoted their talents and resources toward improving the quality of life of Americans in this country; and it speaks directly to African Americans in general.”

Civil Rights attorney Fred D. Gray Sr., takes part in an Oct. 2021 announcement of the...
Civil Rights attorney Fred D. Gray Sr., takes part in an Oct. 2021 announcement of the expungement of arrest records for civil rights icon Claudette Colvin.(Source: WSFA 12 News)

Sewell sent a letter in early 2021 to President Biden seeking the award for Gray. In the year-and-a-half since that letter, Sewell has continued to press the matter, sending endorsements and letters for the idea from organizations like the Alabama Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and others.

She took to the House Floor to praise Gray in December as he marked his 91st birthday, using the moment to again urge the president to act. Her colleagues in Congress, including Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, threw their support behind the movement with calls to the White House.

“I am overjoyed that President Biden will be giving him his flowers as he lives,” Sewell said after learning her calls has been answered.

A native of the district that Sewell currently represents, Gray successfully litigated a number of groundbreaking civil rights cases which led to the desegregation of public buses and the integration of the University of Alabama, Auburn University, and Alabama’s public schools, among many other distinguished accomplishments, the congresswoman’s office noted.

“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,” Gray explained. “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 and fairly, in accordance with the Constitution.”

In October, Gray was honored by the City of Montgomery when officials renamed the street he grew up on from West Jefferson Davis Avenue to W Fred D Gray Avenue.

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