By Ruth Serven Smith 

Lawyer Fred Gray receives an honorary law degree from the University of Alabama May 8, 2022, in Tuscaloosa. Credit Lynn Cummings Photography/University of Alabama.

The University of Alabama presented civil rights pioneer and attorney Fred Gray with an honorary law degree May 8.

Gray, born in 1930 in Montgomery, attended Alabama State for his bachelor’s and Case Western Reserve University for his law degree, before returning to the South to work on several high-profile legal cases.

He defended Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks and provided legal counsel for the NAACP and victims of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. He also successfully represented Vivian Malone and James Hood in their effort to enroll at the University of Alabama in 1963.

“I am honored, appreciative and humbled that The University of Alabama has conferred upon me today an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree,” Gray said. “When I was growing up as a youngster in Montgomery, Alabama, the cradle of the Confederacy, I knew little about The University of Alabama except it was a university for white people and African Americans were not permitted to attend. It has special meaning to me because when I filed the case of Vivian Malone vs. The University of Alabama, I never dreamed that 59 years later it would be honoring me as it is today. My only concern was opening the doors so African Americans could attend.”

The University of Alabama held regular commencement ceremonies last week.

This year marks the 50th anniversary since Michael Figures, Booker Forte Jr. and Ronald E. Jackson became the first African American students to graduate from The University of Alabama School of Law in 1972.

Gray also worked as a preacher in Montgomery and was one of the first African American candidates elected to the Alabama Legislature since Reconstruction.