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Civil rights attorney Fred Gray speaks at Oklahoma Christian University in 2015.
Photo provided by Oklahoma Christian University

Montgomery, Ala., names street after Fred Gray

The civil rights attorney and Church of Christ member represented Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

The Alabama city where Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her bus seat to a White, male passenger in 1955 will rename a street after Fred Gray.

“A pebble cast in the segregated water of Montgomery, Ala., created a human rights tidal wave that changed America.”

Gray, a 90-year-old civil rights lawyer and longtime Church of Christ elder, represented Parks when he was only 24 years old and serving as an attorney for Martin Luther King Jr. 

“A pebble cast in the segregated water of Montgomery, Ala., created a human rights tidal wave that changed America,” Gray told The Christian Chronicle after Parks died at age 92 in 2005.

Gray helped change America, too, and on Tuesday, the Montgomery City Council voted unanimously to rename East and West Jeff Davis Avenue in his honor.

As a child, Gray lived on the street — formerly named for Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during a time of racial segregation. He later became a prominent figure in the courtrooms of the civil rights movement. 

Gray often set precedent in the courtroom, championing cases like Browder v. Gayle in 1956, which integrated Montgomery buses. Two years later, he took the State of Alabama to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the NAACP and won the organization the right to operate in the state. 

Decades later, the city of Montgomery has changed to reflect those figures: memorials and a museum dedicated to Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus led to a boycott and desegregation protests; streets and schools around the city named after E.D. Nixon, one of the lead organizers of the boycott and the founder of the Montgomery Improvement Association; and tributes to King. 

Now, the defender of these civil rights leaders joins the ranks of those honored in this city 65 years after the Montgomery bus boycott. After a short speech given by Steven L. Reed, Montgomery’s first Black mayor, the city council passed the ordinance to rename the street Fred D. Gray Avenue after the Tuskegee Church of Christ member

“When we think about our city, we are becoming a destination for people who want to come and learn more about the history of this country the good and the bad and block to block this city is a tangible link to that history,” Reed said. “And the good we strive to emulate, the bad drives us to change … to move closer to a more perfect union.”

City officials said 54 residents on the street in question had voted in support of passing the ordinance to rename the avenue before the council’s vote. 

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“There’s no better time, and there’s no better testimony to our path forward than renaming the street, in my opinion, after a local hero,” Reed said, “someone who was born right here in Montgomery on that street.”

 “This is a project of the mayor’s,” Gray told the Montgomery Advertiser. “He expressed it to me. I was very happy about it. And I am very happy about it.”

Filed under: civil rights Civil Rights attorney Fred Gray Martin Luther King Jr. National News Top Stories

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