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Fred Gray receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Joe Biden.
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‘A lawyer by trade and a preacher at heart’ — Fred Gray receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

At the White House, the 91-year-old civil rights attorney and Church of Christ elder receives his nation’s highest civilian honor

WASHINGTON — The East Room of the White House was filled with American heroes Thursday including Fred Gray, one of 17 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“When Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin and John Lewis and other giants of our history needed a lawyer for their fight for freedom, you know who they called? They called a guy named Fred Gray. That’s who they called,” President Joe Biden told the room of family members, political dignitaries and reporters. He presented the honorees — including gymnast Simone Biles and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — with the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Gray, a longtime minister and elder for Churches of Christ, was the first civil rights attorney for Martin Luther King Jr., represented Colvin and Parks after they were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to move to the back of segregated Montgomery, Ala., city buses in the 1950s.

“One of the most important civil rights lawyers in our history, Fred’s legal brilliance and strategy desegregated schools and secured the right to vote,” Biden said. 

As a minister, Gray “imbued a righteous calling that touched the soul of our nation,” Biden said. “And at 91 years young, he’s still practicing law. And he’s still keeping the faith in the best of America.”

In recent years, members of Churches of Christ across the nation have called for Gray’s name to be added to the list of Presidential Medal recipients. Last March The Christian Chronicle published in an editorial that “it’s time to bestow America’s highest civilian honor on the renowned civil rights attorney and preacher.”


Related: Gray deserves Presidential Medal of Freedom


On July 1, the White House announced this year’s recipients, which include people from many walks of life over the past seven decades. 

President Joe Biden addresses Medal of Freedom recipients at the White House on July 7, 2022.

President Joe Biden addresses Medal of Freedom recipients at the White House on July 7, 2022.

Less than a week later, as Biden placed the blue ribbon and medal around Gray’s neck, an announcer read a citation: “When Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, Fred Gray represented her in front of the courtroom just as he did for Martin Luther King Jr. and countless marchers for justice.

“Risking his own safety, he helped secure voting rights, desegregate schools and win other battles for the soul of our nation. A patriarch of a family and a movement, Fred Gray is a lawyer by trade and a preacher at heart who follows the command to hate evil, love good and establish justice.”

Fred Gray receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Joe Biden.

Fred Gray receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Joe Biden.

Seated near Gray during the ceremony was fellow recipient Diane Nash, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who worked closely with King in civil rights campaigns.

Two-time Academy Award-winning actor and producer Denzel Washington was another recipient, although he was unable to attend.

Following the ceremony, Gray was scheduled to be honored during a dinner hosted by the National Bar Association at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.  

Filed under: church and civil rights civil rights Civil Rights attorney civil rights movement Claudette Colvin Fred Gray John Lewis Martin Luther King Jr. National Rosa Parks Top Stories

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