Academic journal article Case Western Reserve Law Review

In Honor of Fred Gray: Making Civil Rights Law from Rosa Parks to the Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article Case Western Reserve Law Review

In Honor of Fred Gray: Making Civil Rights Law from Rosa Parks to the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt



      A. The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Gayle v. Browder
      B. Freedom of Association: NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson
      C. Racial Gerrymandering: Gomillion v. Lightfoot
      D. Constitutionalizing the Law of Defamation: New York Times Co.
         v. Sullivan
      A. The Tuskegee Syphilis Litigation
      B. The Perjury Trial of Martin Luther King
      C. Sit-In Demonstrators
      D. Freedom Riders
      E. Desegregation of Public Education
      F. Voting Rights

This issue of the Case Western Reserve Law Review focuses on the work of Fred Gray, one of the nation's preeminent civil rights lawyers and a 1954 graduate of our law school. Mr. Gray's many accolades include the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Award, the Federal Bar Association's Sarah T. Hughes Award, Harvard Law School's Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Freedom, and numerous honorary degrees. He has served as president of the National Bar Association and was the first African-American president of the Alabama State Bar Association. In addition, he was one of the first two African Americans elected to the Alabama legislature since Reconstruction. This issue contains Articles that were presented at a symposium that took place in October 2016.


Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, Fred Gray expected to enter the ministry. To that end, he left his hometown to enroll in a church-related high school called the Nashville Christian Institute. (1) There he became a "boy preacher" who traveled around the country with the Institute's president on fund-raising and recruiting trips and served as a part-time minister for area congregations. (2) He returned to Montgomery and graduated in 1951 from what was then the Alabama State College for Negroes (now Alabama State University). While at Alabama State, Fred Gray decided to become a lawyer who would "use the law to 'destroy everything segregated [he] could find.'" (3)

Because Alabama was rigidly segregated at the time, Mr. Gray had to attend law school elsewhere. The state, although unwilling to give him a legal education within its borders, had a program that would cover some of his expenses at an institution outside the South. These arrangements almost certainly were unlawful even in 1951. (4) More interested in becoming a lawyer than in being a litigant and convinced that the white power structure would prevent him from becoming a lawyer if he challenged the admissions rules, he enrolled at what then was called Western Reserve University in the fall of 1951. (5) After graduating in 1954, he returned home and was admitted to the Alabama bar. (6) Perhaps providentially for his goal of destroying everything segregated he could find, less than a month before he graduated the Supreme Court issued its ruling against school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. (7)


In his first ten years as a lawyer, Fred Gray played a significant role in four landmark Supreme Court cases. He also has handled numerous other civil rights cases for more than six decades. (8) Let us begin with the Supreme Court cases before turning to other civil rights issues.

A. The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Gayle v. Browder (9)

Fred Gray's remarkable legal career effectively began with the December 1, 1955, arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to surrender her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white passenger. Mr. Gray, who had not yet reached his twenty-fifth birthday, represented her. (10) The arrest of Mrs. Parks led to a 382-day boycott of the buses. (11) That protest movement was coordinated by the newly created Montgomery Improvement Association. Mr. Gray was the lawyer for the MIA. (12) And the most visible leader of that organization was a previously unknown young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr. Mr. Gray was Dr. …

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