Attorney Fred Gray spoke at Faulkner University about civil rights, Christian education and racism

Civil rights attorney and Presidential Medal of Honor recipient Fred Gray spoke at Faulkner University’s chapel service Monday morning.

In a conversation with Faulkner President Mitch Henry, Gray spoke about his work in the modern civil rights movement and how his upbringing shaped his career in law – and how his career in law shaped America. .

“And the beginning of my law practice and the lawsuits that ended up almost destroying every aspect of American life and that’s, you know, the rest of the story,” Gray told the crowd.

First days of career

Gray recalled his early career and said back then there were two career paths for a black man – teacher or preacher. He enrolled at Alabama State University with the goal of becoming a teacher.

While there, he rode the Montgomery city bus system. In his words, he didn’t know much about what lawyers did, but he knew they solved problems. “And I concluded that we black people in Montgomery, when I came back here in 1948, were in trouble,” he said.

Christian education

After his speech, Gray said he had always valued a Christian upbringing, but had to move from Alabama to Nashville for his religious upbringing. Gray is a former Faulkner board member and became emeritus in 2014, according to Henry.

Gray rode to Nashville to finish school and get his law degree and upon his return he was put in touch with Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old girl who defended herself by not standing on the bus. Gray lost that case.

Civil rights

Jo Ann Robinson worked to organize the modern civil rights movement soon after and brought together black leaders. She said she wanted to bring her pastor, Martin Luther King, Jr., on board because he could move people with words (“And, I say, well, okay, why don’t we try- we don’t have to do that.”).

“And another thing you need, you might need a lawyer, I’m here, and that’s what happened,” Gray said. “And that’s how it all started.”

Civil rights attorney Fred Gray speaks to students, faculty and visitors at the Faulkner campus in Montgomery, Alabama, Monday, October 10, 2022.

Although they have made progress, Gray said we still haven’t achieved equality in the country. He told the crowd to identify the issues in their community, whether racial, social or economic, and tell their community about them. “Because we still have problems,” he said.


Henry said his theme for the school year was vocation ministry and asked Gray how his career reflected that ministry.

Gray traced her career choice back to her childhood and said all of her work came from her religious foundation.

“As a lawyer, preacher or elder, it all started with my religious background,” he said.

He and his family grew up attending Holt Street Church of Christ. Gray later attended school in Nashville, but attributed his time there to following his studies at Holt Street.

Civil rights attorney Fred Gray wears his Presidential Medal of Freedom as he addresses students, faculty and visitors at the Faulkner campus in Montgomery, Alabama, Monday, Oct. 10, 2022.

Congressman John Lewis

As he finished his interview, Gray recalled having had with John Lewis, the late United States Representative from Georgia, a few days before his death.

Lewis told him to “keep going, keep going.”

“So if you want to know what you can do: keep going, keep going, keep the clocks on the clock, do it nonviolently, and do it until justice flows like hell. water and justice like a mighty stream,” Gray said. . “That’s what he told me, that’s what I’m telling you.”

At the end of his speech, Gray, wearing his Presidential Medal of Honor, received a standing ovation.

Jemma Stephenson is a children’s and education reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser. She can be reached at [email protected] or 334-261-1569.

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