Higginbotham Corporate Leadership Award | Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Pillar of Justice Award



Veteran civil rights attorney Fred Gray's legal career began in the midst of America's modern day civil rights movement. With a quiet demeanor, strong determination and secret commitment made in college, he vowed, "to become a lawyer, return to Alabama, and destroy everything segregated I could find." Gray began his legal career as a sole practitioner, less than a year out of law school, and at age twenty-four, he represented Mrs. Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, the action that initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Gray was also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s first civil rights lawyer. This was the beginning of a legal career that now spans over forty-five years.

Determined to right the wrongs he found in his native State of Alabama, Gray has been at the forefront of changing the social fabric of America regarding desegregation, integration, constitutional law, racial discrimination in voting, housing, education, jury service, farm subsidies, medicine and ethics, and generally in improving the national judicial system.

Gray was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and is a graduate of the Nashville Christian Institute, Nashville, Tennessee; Alabama State University, Montgomery, Alabama; and Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. Currently, he is senior partner at the law firm of Gray, Langford, Sapp, McGowan, Gray & Nathanson; which has law offices in Tuskegee and Montgomery, Alabama. He is currently President-Elect of the Alabama State Bar Association and will become its President in July of 2002, becoming the first African-American to hold the position.

Notable Cases

Browder v. Gayle, which integrated the buses in the City of Montgomery in 1956.

Gomillion v. Lightfoot decided in 1960, returned Africa-Americans to the city limits of the City of Tuskegee. It opened the door for redistricting and reapportioning the various legislative bodies across the nation and laid the foundation for the concept of "one man, one voice".

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. State of Alabama, ex rel. John Patterson, Attorney General, was brought by the State of Alabama in which it outlawed the NAACP from doing business in the State of Alabama. This case was taken to the Supreme Court, three times through the state court system, and twice through the federal court system. The ultimate result was the NAACP was able to resume its business of protecting the rights of African Americans in the State of Alabama.

Dixon v. Alabama Board of Education, decided in 1961, reinstated students who were expelled from Alabama State College and held that the students were unconstitutionally expelled, and students attending a state-supported institution are entitled to a hearing before expulsion. The legal principle announced in this case has been extended to many other areas.

Williams v. Wallace, decided in 1965, was a class action suit brought by African Americans against Governor Wallace and the State of Alabama, and resulted in the court ordering Governor Wallace and the State of Alabama to protect marchers as they walked from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to present grievances as a result of being unable to vote. The publicity of these actions led to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Gray filed suits that integrated all state institutions of higher learning in the State of Alabama, and one hundred four of the one hundred twenty-one elementary and secondary schools systems in the state. Lee v. Macon. This case started as a simple desegregation case against the public schools in Macon County, Alabama. It has resulted in the following:

  • A statewide order requesting that all of the public elementary and secondary schools in the state of Alabama be desegregated.
  • The desegregation of all trade and junior colleges.
  • The desegregation of all institutions of higher learning.
  • The merger of the Alabama Athletic Association (Caucasian) and the Alabama Interscholastic Athletic Association (African-American).
  • The integration of faculty and staff members of the public schools of the State of Alabama.
  • These cases continue in court, as of January 2002. 

In July of 1993, he argued on behalf of Alabama State College, the higher education case, John F. Knight, Jr. v. State of Alabama, et al. in the Eleventh Circuit. The court held in that case that there are still vestiges of racial discrimination in higher education in Alabama.

Awards and Honors

Gray is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the American Bar Association's Spirit of Excellence Award and the Nation Bar Association's C. Frances Stradford Award.