20 Jul 2006

Fred Gray: The Hero Lawyer?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Black History, Contemporary Ethics, Fred Gray, Race Relations, Restoration History

Introduction

On December 1, 1955, a tired Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white individual on a Montgomery bus and was arrested. Four days later the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott began on December 5; thus emerged the long and treacherous voyage to Civil Rights (Justice) in America. Martin Luther King, Jr was thrust upon America and the pages of history at the young age of 26!

Fred Gray: The Hero Lawyer?

It is not uncommon to find people joking about the oxymoron of a “Christian” lawyer. This joke is rooted in the myth that the typical lawyer is basically in it for money. Lots of money. So is it possible for a lawyer to be not only a devoted Christian but also a hero? May I suggest that Fred D. Gray is such a man.

Fred Gray was born on December 14, 1930 in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1943 he moved to Nashville to attend Marshall Keeble’s Nashville Christian Institute. While at the Institute he became one of Keeble’s “Boy Preachers” that traveled the country with Keeble.

Fred’s Dream, Other’s Nightmare

But Fred had a dream. Some might have thought it was a nightmare rather than a dream. But it was his dream. His dream was to kill segregation.  He was unable to attend colleges in the South and no law school would allow him in. But the Lord blessed Gray and he attended Western Reserve University to obtain his law degree in 1954.

Back in Montgomery, the fresh out of college lawyer had his first client in August of 1954 and opened his office in September. In little over a year Gray would be involved in a brief, but epic making case. On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. She was arrested and her attorney, the young 25 year old Gray was called to the scene. A day or two later Fred hatched the idea of the Montgomery Improvement Association which then asked the equally young Martin Luther King, Jr to be its spokesperson.

The wheels were set in motion, there was no turning back. America has never been the same. Fred Gray would represent King in his frequent arrests. Famously he represented those on that bloody Sunday in March 1965 who walked toward the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In landmark cases Gray desegregated Alabama public schools. Fred was also legal counsel for those abused in the Tuskegee Syphilis “Study.” His cases have changed the face of America.

The Gospel Demands It

Gray was continually in the struggle for biblical justice and equality from the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement to the present day. This was done, Gray notes, precisely because of his Christian convictions.  In sharp contrast to most white preachers, Fred Gray insisted the Bible demanded it!  Remember at the same time Fred was always that “boy preacher” too. He says that “Jesus Christ is and always has been the center of my life” (Bus Ride to Justice, p. 254). He served as the minister for the Newton Church of Christ from 1957 to November 5, 1973. In the 1970s Fred Gray led the way for the union of two racially diverse churches in Tuskegee, Alabama: the Newton Church of Christ and the East End Church of Christ, a white congregation. This merger took place in November 1974. Gray testifies to his greatest

Fred Gray was subject to frequent racist attacks

Fred Gray was subject to frequent racist attacks

accomplishment “not only was I able to destroy segregation in government, education and transportation, but also in the church” (Bus Ride, p. 260).

Because of his achievements on behalf of not only African Americans but all humanity, Fred D. Gray was honored with The William Robert Ming Advocacy Award by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People during the group’s 97th annual convention in Washington on July 17, 2006.

Can a Lawyer Be a Christian?

I have met Fred Gray one time in my life and he was one of the most humble people I have ever had the privilege to encounter. No one deserves this honor more than he. Can a lawyer be a Christian? Fred Gray shows that Christian commitment can define a lawyer. Can a lawyer be a hero? Fred Gray has shown us that at least some lawyers are worthy of the title “hero.” I am proud to call Fred my brother in the Lord.

Perhaps you would like to visit Fred’s website or read his book Bus Ride to Justice. I recommend you do both. You can order his book off of his website at the following address: http://www.fredgray.net/welcome.html

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine

22 Responses to “Fred Gray: The Hero Lawyer?”

  1. CFOURMAY Says:

    I had never heard of him. Thanks for that post. It is people like him that set the wheels in motion but are not very highly recognized. I mean ever one ahs heard of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. To see how God worked in the past is a reminder that He is working now and in the future.

  2. Missionary's Missionary Says:

    The greatest in the kingdom of heaven are not often famous! Thanks for the blog…

  3. Ancient Wanderer Says:

    Bobby,
    I have never met Fred personally but have dealt with those who have. Those I have had the honor of dealing with are also those “without honor” in this life.
    I hope that everyone who reads this blog realizes that the world needs King(s) and Gray(s). But that most [like 99.5%] can only hope to be Fred Gray(s). The problem is that too many of us have asperations of being King and we don’t realize that before that can EVER happen we have to eventually, one day, some how, hopefully become a Fred Gray.
    To the preachers I say this (I, not the Lord), “By your very status in this life as ‘ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ’ you will receive honor and recognition that you have not earned…so please take that authority & recognition & prestige & honor and hold it down until you have actually earned it and learned how to handle it.”—Fred Gray is Fred Gray (earned it) because he didn’t let December 1955 or July 2006 go to his head.

  4. Scott Freeman Says:

    I wrote several months ago about how Fred Gray was a hero of mine. Think you for illuminating so much about his story.

  5. cwinwc Says:

    It is nice to know that one of “our” guys was advocating and fighting for what was right at a time when most of “us” were O.K. with segregation of the races, even in our churches.

  6. Donna Says:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I found you through Bill Williams. He felt that your post yesterday added to the conversation we were having over there. This post compliments my thinking as well. Many of us want equality and a “dream church” few of us are willing to sacrifice ourselves in the way necessary to make such dreams reality.

    Maybe the reminder will help me to be more proactive myself.

  7. Jason Says:

    Bobby,

    Thanks for this post. Brother Gray certainly would qualify as a hero.

  8. Laymond Says:

    When we learn to work for the good of others, we work in the service of the Lord.

  9. BR-549 Says:

    Bobby,

    We wrote about Fred in the Christian Chronicle after Rosa Parks died. Here’s a link for your readers who might be interested: Fred Gray story

    Thanks,
    Bobby

  10. denimgirl Says:

    Thanks Bobby for posting about Fred Gray. In the late sixty’s we went to Mississippi every year for about 6 years straight, to get a new school bus for our district. The atmosphere there was very violatile and we saw evidence what little time we were there and traveling that there was a lot of trouble for the blacks.

    Some were stopped for a small thing like traffic violations and arrested and then never heard of again. Lots of people may not realize how bad it was.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Josh Stump Says:

    Very interesting post. I appreciate you shedding some light on this extraordinary man.

    I also have to chime in to say that as a Christian and a lawyer I am blessed to get to deal with other lawyers on a regular basis. Yes, you read that right. While there are some in my profession, like all others, who bring shame on it, in general I find attorneys to be more concerned with behaving ethically than any other group of people I know.

  12. denimgirl Says:

    I think I meant volatile. Guess I should have just said “dangerous”. (Grin)

  13. Dee O'Neil Andrews Says:

    Thanks once again, Bobby, for this excellent post. It’s a great short bio on Fred Gray. I’d read Bobby’s (Ross’s) article in Christian Chronicle on him, but didn’t know all the rest and find it most uplifting and encouraging.

    Being a Christian attorney has been an interesting experience for me, to say the least and I’ve certainly heard every bad lawyer joke there is.

    I was late getting into it and the first lawyer (I define them all as either “lawyers” or “attorneys,” depending on a lot of things I won’t go into here) I clerked for and worked with (big plaintiff practice in downtown New Orleans in an old coffee warehouse) told me I “wasn’t mean enough” to be a “lawyer.”

    He was probably right, but I didn’t really care. I practiced all kinds of law (I’m now not physically able to practice), including a good bit of family law, and always tried to be a Christian first and then an advocate for those who couldn’t speak for themselves.

    Like your other commenter, Josh Stump said, I’ve met all kinds of attorneys, too, but found myself that as a whole they WERE highly ethical in their practices and in their lives.

    May we all ever strive to be that way in each of our professions in all we say and do. Fred Gray is an outstanding example to us all and to the world at large of a Christian attorney. May he live long on this earth and prosper.

  14. Hazel Says:

    Thanks not only for this very informative and interesting bit about Fred Gray. It’s good for us to remember that behind all of our “heroes” there are those who guided and pushed them to be who they are and get where they are.

    Some of the most important people in our individual churches are also the ones that work behind the scenes or are the mentors of the ones who become great.

  15. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Dee and Josh I did not mean to leave the impression that I believe the common jokes about lawyers. I know only one attorney “personally” and that is my brother-in-law’s wife (she is a JD) and I find that she is great.

    I think you make a good point too. We all, not just preachers, need to see our vocation as an opportunity to bring the Kingdom of God to bear in this present world. Fred Gray did that and that is why he is a “hero lawyer.”

    Having living in the New Orleans area for a number of years I may have driven by you law office a time or two.

    Hazel it is great to meet you. Thanks for coming by and we hope to see you again in the near future.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  16. EandJTrygg Says:

    This is a nice site. I’m Erik and I work over at the Chronicle with Bobby. I’m jealous of the number of comments you’ve got here. Maybe if I talked about stuff on my blog besides songs that are overplayed on the radio! — Erik

  17. Dee O'Neil Andrews Says:

    Bobby –

    I didn’t get the impression you were trying to trash lawyers. Not at all. Actually, some certainly should be!

    After my first year of law school at Loyola I began clerking for Lenny Levenson (Levenson & Bonin) whose offices were at 2442 (I think) Canal Street, nearly up to Canal Boulevard. (We were a couple blocks up from Mandina’s where we ate a whole lot and hobnobbed with judges and the like.)

    About the time I graduated, we moved down to 427 Gravier, 3rd floor at Weigand, Levenson & Costa. It was about 1/2 block up from Windsor Court between Tchoupitoulas and Magazine. My office across most of the back had the old wide heart of pine floors and the three brick walls and probably 11 or 12 foot ceilings of bead board.

    It was really a neat place. My two big long windows faced the back toward Canal Street and I could hear the caliopes playing all throughout the day from the river, which was only about two blocks down.

    The Lucky Dog vendors worked out of a warehouse building up in the next block of Gravier, there were tons of great places to eat all the time and Lenny took me with him just about everywhere as a sidekick, more than anything, to have lunches with judges, those running for political offices and other attorneys and to all of the fund raising get togethers.

    He lived (still does) out in Jefferson Parish in Kenner and sat as night court judge in 1st Parish Court out on David Drive for one of the judges (George Giacobbe) he was big buddies with, so I was always having to run out there at night to take pleadings and appellate briefs and stuff to him to sign to get in the New Orleans main post office mail before the midnight deadlines on filing appellate stuff.

    He was a perennial procrastinator as well as a yeller (mostly at others, rarely at me) and it finally got to me so I jumped when I had the chance to go with Hailey, McNamara out in the Galleria. Hailey, McNamara, Hall, Larmann & Papale is still there on the entire 14th floor of the Galleria.

    I was a staff attorney, which I loved, shephered (mentored) all the law clerks and did the firm’s entire quarterly 6 page newsletter to clients since I had the journalism background (and liked doing all of that stuff).

    My office was on the north side of the Galleria looking toward the lake and those were great years practicing law, too. But the long commute from Slidell every day got worse and worse and I finally went with a small firm in Slidell where I stayed until health problems began to interfere.

    Like I said last night, I came into it rather late on one of my “mid-life” crises, had done a lot of other things and so had a different perspective than most of the “baby lawyers” as we called them just out of law school.

    I did a lot of family law and found it the most rewarding personally, although the most difficult, too, trying to deal with as well.

    What were you doing in New Orleans and where were you working? I started Loyola in 1989 and practiced law until 2002 and I loved the whole experience, myself.

    As for Fred Gray – I was thinking about your post later last night and this morning about him helping to integrate the churches in Tuskegee back in the 70s. When I first moved down to Picayune, Miss. (from Falls Church, VA) in the early 70s the church there was a new “mission” work that had begun in the mid 60s and was always fully integrated.

    It was the only church in town (and I think the entire county) that was. Today one of the elders is a black man who was a very young man when I first moved there and the church seems to be doing very well and thriving. I’ve just had the chance to go there once so far about two weeks ago since moving back up there but look forward to being of service if I can.

    Thanks again for the bio of Fred Gray.

  18. Stoogelover Says:

    I met Bro. Gray at Pepperdine and had the opportunity to converse with him for a few moments. Yes, a very humble man. He signed my copy of his book, too.
    One of the members of our church in Long Beach grew up in Selma, AL where Fred was a preacher and an elder. He tells wonderful stories about Dr. Gray.

  19. Blogging by Tina Says:

    What a tribute to a man I’d never heard of either.

    One of my favorite stories is where David and his fighting men went off after the Amalekites after they’d carried off David’s and his men’s women and children. Some of the men stayed behind with the supplies while the rest went to fight.

    When the men who fought reached the men who’d stayed with the supplies, the men who’d fought didn’t want to give the other men any of the booty.

    David’s answer was that the men who stayed by the supplies would get the same share of booty as those who fought, and he made it a law throughtout all Israel.

    I sometimes think we forget that without the “behind the scenes” people, such as Fred Gray, the “out front” people would not be able to do the things they do.

  20. Keith Brenton Says:

    There are a couple of articles that have appeared in New Wineskins about Fred Gray over the years: one by Greg Taylor and one by Michael Casey.

  21. Josh Yaeger Says:

    Great post…very interesting. Thanks.

  22. Jim Martin Says:

    Bobby,
    I heard Fred Gray speak a few years ago at Pepperdine. Then I read his book. I came away very impressed. Thanks for this post.

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