Civil Rights Attorney and Legislator
Born in 1930 in Montgomery, Gray was among the foremost civil rights attorneys of the 20th century. Forced by segregation to leave Alabama to attend law school, he vowed to return and "destroy everything segregated I could find." Over a six-decade career, his cases desegregated transportation, education. housing, law enforcement, public accommodations, and government. In the U.S. Supreme Court, Browder v. Gayle
won the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Gomillion v. Lightfoot
ended gerrymandering of Tuskegee and set the stage for "one man, one vote." Lee v. Macon
desegregated all Alabama public elementary and secondary schools. Dixon v. Alabama
extended the rights of college students. His clients included Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Vivian Malone, Harold Franklin, Freedom Riders, Selma-to-Montgomery marchers, and Tuskegee Syphilis Study victims. In 1970, he and Thomas Reed were the first African Americans since Reconstruction elected to the Alabama Legislature. In 2002, he was the first African American president of the Alabama Bar Association.
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Gray represented the 623 victims of the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which the U.S. Public Health Service experimented from 1932-1972 on the effects of untreated syphilis, using African American men from rural Macon County as unwitting research subjects. Available medical treatment was withheld from the men in the study.
In 1975, Gray negotiated a settlement for the victims and their survivors. In 1997, President Bill Clinton apologized on behalf of the nation to survivors in a White House ceremony during which he called Gray "a great friend of freedom" and thanked him "for fighting this long battle all these long years." That same year Gray initiated - in honor of the victims and in memory of Bernice Hill Gray - the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center, a museum dedicated to the history of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and to the roles of the Native, European and African American peoples who have lived in what is now Macon County, Alabama.