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Case Trustee Gray receives ABA’s Thurgood Marshall Award

Photo: Fred D. Gray Sr., Thurgood Marshall Award recipient This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. One of the legal professions staunchest fighters for equality—Fred D. Gray Sr., Case Western Reserve University Trustee and 1954 alumnus of the Case School of Law—will receive the American Bar Association’s prestigious 2004 Thurgood Marshall Award for his work in civil rights.

The legal work of Gray, the Alabama attorney for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, put him in the throes of the civil rights movement. He was pivotal in paving the way for the peaceful march following a “Bloody Sunday” start in the journey from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. Gray’s contributions extended to four landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings that dramatically reshaped civil rights law in Alabama.

“Fred Gray’s contributions to the advancement of civil rights in this country exemplify the spirit of the Thurgood Marshall Award,” said Georgina C. Verdugo, chair of the award committee.

The honor for Gray comes on the 50th anniversary of his admission to the practice of law. “From the start of his legal career, Fred Gray has carried on the proud tradition of Thurgood Marshall,” said ABA Section Chair Joan F. Kessler. “It is fitting that he receive the Thurgood Marshall Award to recognize those 50 years of remarkable dedication and effective use of the legal system to eliminate racial discrimination.”

“Fred Gray’s story is that of an idealist deeply committed to the law as a way of righting wrongs and promoting justice for African Americans,” Jonathan Entin, Case professor at the Case School of Law, writes in his “Destroying Everything Segregated I Could Find: Fred Gray and the Legal Campaign for Integration in Alabama”—a chapter in Preston King’s book, Black Leadership and Ideology in the South Since the Civil War.

During the Civil Rights era, Gray’s work impacted the desegregation of public transportation in Alabama, the University of Alabama and the state’s elementary and secondary schools. Among his notable legal work is representing Parks after her arrest in 1955 for refusing to relinquish her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus and the class action law suit against the U.S. Public Health Service to seek compensation for injuries to African American men in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Gray currently is a senior partner with the law firm of Gray, Langford, Sapp, McGowan, Gray & Nathanson, which has offices in Montgomery and Tuskegee. In 2002, he became the first man of color elected as president of the Alabama State Bar Association. He has served as president of the National Bar Association, was elected a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers in 1999 and was appointed in 2003 to a three-year term to the Executive Council of the National Conference of Bar Presidents.

The Thurgood Marshall Award is the second ABA award to honor Gray. He received the “Spirit of Excellence Award” in 1996 for his achievements and contributions to the legal profession.


About Case Western Reserve University

Case is among the nation's leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case offers nationally recognized programs in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work.