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Nootbaar Institute Hosts Civil Rights Attorney Fred Gray

Fred Gray

Pepperdine's Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics hosted Fred Gray, the former attorney to Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on Friday, May 8, at the School of Law. The topic of Gray's lecture was "How the Civil Rights Movement Led to the Election of Our President."

Gray told about his early life growing up in Montgomery, Alabama. At 12 years old, he went to boarding school at the Nashville Christian Institute. He earned his bachelor's degree from Alabama State University, where he vowed to earn a law degree and "destroy everything segregated in the state of Alabama." Alabama State University would not admit him to the law school because he was African-American, so Gray went to Ohio and attended Case Western Reserve University.

After completing law school, Gray passed the Ohio Bar Exam and the Alabama Bar Exam. Shortly thereafter, he represented a 15-year-old girl named Claudette, who was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person on a city bus. At age twenty-four, Gray represented Rosa Parks, who famously did the same. Parks' case inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which started a chain reaction throughout Alabama and the nation. Gray was also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s first civil rights lawyer.

"Young people played a big part in the Civil Rights Movement," said Gray. He himself was 24, Claudette was 15, Parks was 36, and Dr. King was 27. Gray encouraged young people and law students in attendance and said, "Do not underestimate what one person can do."

Gray spoke on the progress of the Civil Rights Movement leading up the inauguration of President Barack Obama. "Notwithstanding the progess we have made, the struggle for equal justice continues," he said.

Currently, Gray is senior partner at the law firm of Gray, Langford, Sapp, McGowan, Gray & Nathanson; which has law offices in Tuskegee and Montgomery, Alabama. He is the current president of the Alabama State Bar Association and is the first African-American to hold the position.

Gray also taught a two-part class "Bus Ride to Justice," as part of Pepperdine's Annual Bible Lectures.

A video of the lecture will be available soon.