Just some thoughts:
Who is, or was, the most impressive person you’ve ever met? I was recently asked that question.
I told the person asking, “That would be like asking someone sitting in the front row of a performance of the Rockettes, ‘who is the prettiest girl in the group?” I said I could not name just one person, but over the years I can name a few that I was fortunate to meet in which I was greatly impressed.
One of them was a man named Fred Gray. Mr. Gray is one who I would consider a part of American history. In May of 1996 I spent an afternoon and evening with Fred Gray. Some of that meeting might be a story for another time.
Many people might recognize the name of Fred Gray and associate it with two figures in American civil rights history; Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King. At age twenty-five Gray was their lawyer. Mr. Gray was an African American born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama. While many associated Mr. Gray with the civil rights movement cases of Parks and King, they fail to know, what I think, is an equally important civil rights story. Looking back on history it is easy to say or think what one might have done, because we can now look at the outcome of such decisions. Not so when all was taking place.
Nine months before Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus, Gray represented a young fifteen old girl, Claudette Colvin, for a similar act of resistance. In March of 1955 Claudette refused to obey a Montgomery city bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white person. When she boarded the bus that afternoon to go home from school she made her way to the back of the bus, the area where all blacks were expected to sit. She did not sit in the section reserved for whites, but she sat in the back of the bus. The number of riders that afternoon was many and she was later told by the driver “Get up and give your seat to these folks.” She told the driver, “I’m not getting up, I paid my money and I’m sitting where the black folks are told to sit.” The bus driver called the police and she was taken, some say dragged, from the bus and arrested.
Interesting note, Gray, being a young lawyer and in my opinion a very astute one, asked a more experienced lawyer, Clifford Durr, to help him prepare the case. Durr was a established white lawyer there in Montgomery. Durr agreed. Durr did this at great cost.
”He and his wife, Virginia Foster Durr, endured public scorn and social ostracism from prominent whites in the city for their sympathetic support and involvement in these lawsuits. I (Gray) will always be grateful to Clifford and his wife, Virginia, for assisting me in becoming a good lawyer. Durr provided this service without charge.”
Bus Ride to Justice – Fred Gray
Having taught American history during the years I taught high school, I considered it an honor and a privilege to be in Mr. Gray’s presence even if it was only for a day. Mr. Gray was there when history was made and I believe Mr. Gray helped shape history, not many folks can say that.
The world could use more folks like Mr. Gray and Mr. Durr.
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February 17, 2014
Posted September 6, 2018