Fred Gray on injustice and his hope for the church
‘Where were Churches of Christ during the Civil Rights Movement?” …
The Crusade for Christ, a biannual gospel campaign hosted by Churches of Christ in cities across the U.S., begins June 22 in Montgomery, Ala. Jack Evans, president of Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas, is the featured speaker.
Hundreds of volunteers are expected from across the nation, and previous campaigns have yielded dozens of baptisms. (See our coverage of the 2011 Crusade in Washington and the 2007 Crusade in Tampa, Fla.)
Hamil Harris, a correspondent for The Christian Chronicle, interviewed Fred Gray, a longtime elder of the Tuskegee Church of Christ in Alabama, about the significance of this year’s Crusade, which will take place at the epicenter of the Civil Rights movement. Gray, 82, was a “boy preacher” for renowned Church of Christ evangelist Marshall Keeble. He became a prominent attorney during the Civil Rights era, defending Rosa Parks and playing vital roles in other landmark cases. (See our 2012 profile of Gray.)
On Sunday, June 23, Gray and Evans will speak from the steps of the Alabama State Capitol following a rally and march by Crusade participants.
What does it mean to you to host the Crusade for Christ in Montgomery?
The city of Montgomery … has a lot of history, It was the capital of the Confederacy, and most people consider the Montgomery bus boycott as the beginning of the modern Civil Rights movement. It is appropriate for the Lord’s church that Christians from across the country should come to Montgomery for the crusade.
The Crusade idea was conceived by Daniel Harriston, who also is a native of Montgomery and became a member of the Holt Street congregation. I think it is indeed fitting and proper that, after being in large cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and even Birmingham, it is appropriate that it should be in Montgomery.
The Church of Christ in Montgomery has enjoyed a good reputation in the community — both in the white community and in the black community. We also have a Church of Christ-related school, Faulkner University. Before that it was Alabama Christian School, and before that it was Alabama Bible School in the 1940s. I am on the Faulkner University board, and at our board meeting in November and at the recent one in April, I invited all of the board members, which consist predominantly of white Christians, to the Crusade. An assistant to the board reminded all of the board members about the Crusade and invited them to attend.
It is appropriate that the Crusade should be here.
In terms of race relations, what is your hope?
I certainly hope that the black church and the white church — terms that should have never existed in the first place — come together. I think this is a great opportunity for us to work together, and I hope that we will have excellent participation by both groups. We had a cluster meeting here in Tuskegee, and the first cluster to go out on Monday is going to be here in Tuskegee.
In my remarks at the State Capitol, I intend to let people know about the history of the Church of Christ in Montgomery. The Church of Christ has played a role in the movement. If I played a role at all, then the Church of Christ played a role.
The Holt Street Church of Christ is located in the same block as the Holt Street Baptist Church, where the first mass meeting was held. Many people don’t realize that. In the first mass meeting, there is a picture showing a man very prominently. That man was brother Thompson, one of the elders of the Holt Street church.
You recently released a revised edition of your book, “Bus Ride to Justice,” which tells about the 13-month bus boycott, which began four days before Rosa Parks was arrested on Dec. 1, 1955. Tell us about your association with her.
I am the only surviving member of the inner circle that made the plans for the Montgomery bus boycott. Everybody thinks that Rosa was so tired that she just sat down on the bus, but Mrs. Parks had been a mover and shaker in her own, quiet way for years, working for civil rights. She wanted to do what she did.
We used to have lunch in my office everyday, from the beginning of the boycott to the day of her arrest. I was the last person she talked to before she got arrested.
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