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Fifty-eight years after bus boycott, Christians crusade in Montgomery

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?

Fred Gray (Photo by Kristi Jones)

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.

  • Feedback
    When the history of the Church of Christ is written for the past generation, no greater contributor to justice in our society will be listed other than Fred Gray, an African American. God said, “And I will make justice the measuring line” (Isaiah 28:17). When Jesus said we should be focusing on “weightier matters,” the first thing he mentioned was “justice” (Matthew 23:23). Gray knows what these verses mean.
    I wish the Chronicle would feature those few places in the brotherhood (Lebanon, TN being one of them) where there are times members of all congregations come together for a joint service of worship and preaching and fellowship. Even small events like these could do much to break down walls, misunderstanding, and prejudice.
    Harold Williams
    June, 21 2013

    Please explain how a rally and march about the past bus boycott has any place as part of a crusade for Christ. How many rallies and marches were held on the anniversary of Paul’s conversion to show Paul’s role in limiting the persecution of the church by jewish officials? Do Christians in that part of the world continue to pass on to the next generation blow by blow accounts of past atrocities and injustice so that Jews and Christians continue to talk about improving relations. Do you get my point?
    Why do we continue to bring up the injustices of the past rather than celebrate where we are in the now? [Which results in passing on negative feelings, about the other race, to the younger generation] Paul said he looked forward to the high calling in Christ Jesus–he refused to dwell on the past. May we do the same.
    Why do we think that we have a racial problem simply because blacks prefer to worship with their cultural practices and whites prefer to worship in their culture–when each race is happy to come together for special joint worship times and gospel meetings?
    Let the Chronicle as the post above states feature positive events.
    David Dallas
    June, 21 2013

    “Injustices” were a major theme of the O.T. prophets.
    Where I am from, I could take you to many small towns in the South, where the white congregation has never made any attempt to preach the gospel to its African American citizens or to establish a congregation.
    In the 1950s, people like Fred Gray were seen as “agitators,” and unfortunately, the C of C has one of the worst records among religious groups accepting any change whatsoever. (See Simpkins, “The Everlasting South.”) We only changed when it became “safe” to do so.
    If you don’t believe there are racist attitudes today (yes, in the church), I would like to forward to you the many racist e-mails I receive almost every day regarding our African American president. When I started receiving them in the spring of ’08, I ran them off and have a folder about an inch thick, that I share with my students.
    Harold Williams
    June, 22 2013

    Harold, I am sorry that you are receiving racist e-mails. If I were receiving such–I would bounce them [which makes it appear that Your e-mail address is not valid]. Usually won’t be sent again. Then I would delete them without reading and definitely not share them with students. Nothing positive can result from sharing them. We can teach how to treat all races with love and justice without describing how not to treat each other. It’s all summed up in the 2 greatest commandments.!
    Finally, I would obtain a new e-mail address and make it available only to the select Christian friends and relatives.
    Harold, my prayer is that Philippians 4:8 would become your day. Numbers 6:24-26
    David Dallas
    June, 25 2013

    Harold, the traumas of hearing dat racism has been brought into d congregation made me to reply back. No matter what they do to u, do not fear, stand fairm, defend the word of God and by so doing the promise of God will be fulfilled in your life. They are of the world but you can change them to Gods people.
    Sifonobong Asuquo
    July, 24 2013

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