Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the location of attorney Fred Gray’s law office, which is in Tuskegee.
Civil rights attorney Fred Gray, who grew up on the former Jefferson Davis Avenue in Montgomery and went on to help topple segregation and reshape the nation, will be presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It’s the nation’s highest civilian honor.
President Joe Biden will honor Gray and 16 other recipients Thursday at a White House ceremony.
“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 in a statement released by Rep. Terri Sewell. “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 and fairly, in accordance with the Constitution.”
As the attorney for Rosa Parks, the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr., among others, Gray helped desegregate public buses and integrate public schools and universities. His law firm is based in Tuskegee.
The Montgomery City Council voted last year to rename Gray’s childhood street in his honor, despite potentially violating a state law that was enacted in 2017 amid a push to protect Confederate monuments.
Sewell had pushed for Gray to receive the honor for more than a year.
“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,” she said in a statement. “Attorney Gray is one of the most consequential civil rights lawyers of our time, having represented Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and the foot soldiers.”
Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said in a statement that Gray “began as the lawyer for the Movement, only to become the lawyer for all humankind.”
“Attorney Gray epitomizes the enduring legacy of all who sought the law as a means to drive change and push our nation toward its ideals of liberty and justice for all,” Reed said. “For nearly a century, Attorney Gray has been the conscience of the American judicial system, arguing for equity at its highest levels. … Even today, he continues to advocate on behalf of those facing the daunting task of seeking fairness from a system set against their benefits.”
This year’s other recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom include Olympian Simone Biles, Sister Simone Campbell, former president of The University of Texas Julieta Garcia, former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, the Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, religious freedom advocate and Gold Star father Khizr Khan, New York critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay, former US Sen. John McCain, civil rights icon Diane Nash, World Cup champion and rights advocate Megan Rapinoe, US Se Alan Simpson, union fixture Richard Trumka, Brig. Gene. Wilma Vaught, actor Denzel Washington, and civil rights advocate Raúl Yzaguirre.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brad Harper at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Fred Gray to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom
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