Bar Associations

Longtime civil rights leader Fred Gray will receive ABA Medal

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Calling Fred Gray a “civil rights icon,” the ABA on Wednesday announced that he will receive this year’s ABA Medal. Photo by Corkythehornetfan, CC-BY-SA-4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

When Fred Gray was 24 years old, he was the lawyer for Rosa Parks, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began the modern civil rights movement. He later represented marchers involved in the Selma to Montgomery March and helped desegregate the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama, and the school systems in Alabama.

Calling Gray a “civil rights icon,” the ABA on Wednesday announced that he will receive this year’s ABA Medal. The award, which is the association’s highest honor, “recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to the cause of American jurisprudence.”

“Fred Gray is a giant in the American legal profession,” said ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross in a press release. “As a pioneering lawyer and as a courageous civil rights leader, he is a role model for many. Fred Gray, a longtime ABA member, embodies everything that our members aspire to be.”

Gray graduated from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 1954, and began his civil rights practice in Montgomery and Tuskegee, Alabama. His motto was “to destroy everything segregated I could find,” and through a career that spanned more than half a century, he also worked to prevent disenfranchisement of Black voters and the systematic exclusion of Black citizens from jury service.

Gray, who additionally represented the victims of the Tuskegee syphilis study, was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1970. One of the first two Black Alabama state legislators since Reconstruction, he served until 2015.

An ABA member since 1959, Gray also was president of the National Bar Association in 1985 and was the first Black president of the Alabama State Bar in 2002.

“I am honored, appreciative and humbled that the ABA Board of Governors has selected me as the 2023 recipient of the ABA Medal,” Gray said in the press release. “It is a great honor to be recognized by my peers. I am honored because the ABA stated it is doing so for ‘your conspicuous service in the cause of American jurisprudence.’”

Gray, who still practices with Gray, Langford, Sapp, McGowan, Gray, Gray & Nathanson in Montgomery and Tuskegee, Alabama, added that he is “appreciative because it comes late in life, at the age of 92, while I still can enjoy it.”

He will receive the ABA Medal at the ABA General Assembly on Aug. 5 during the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting in Denver.

Its past recipients include U.S. Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Felix Frankfurter, Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan Jr., Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer; ethics leader Lawrence Fox; World Justice Project founder and former ABA President William Neukom; social justice activist Bryan Stevenson; Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski; and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

See also: “Rosa Parks’ attorney: ‘If the story would be told, I’d have to tell it’ (podcast)”

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