Civil Rights Pioneer to Receive Honorary Degree Thursday

September 14, 2016

Emporia State University will confer an honorary degree upon a renowned U.S. civil rights attorney who stood alongside Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during a special visit to campus.

Fred D. Gray Sr., will give a public presentation at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Albert Taylor Hall in Plumb Hall on the Emporia campus. On Friday, Gray will speak to middle- and high-school students the next morning as part of a university-sponsored Constitution Day event.

Gray began a dynamic civil rights career in 1954, less than a year after completing law school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. His first civil rights case was representation of Claudette Colvin, a 15-year old African American high school student who refused to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1955. In December 1955 he represented Rosa Parks who was arrested because she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, igniting the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 

He was also the first civil rights attorney for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and took several civil rights cases. Gray was portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr., in the 2014 movie “Selma.” 

A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Gray was one of the first African Americans to serve in the Alabama Legislature since reconstruction serving from 1970-1974. Over the course of his legal career, the American Bar Association honored him with two of its highest awards: the Spirit of Excellence Award in 1996 — the inaugural year of the award — and the Thurgood Marshall Award in 2004. 

“Bus Ride to Justice” is Gray’s autobiography, released in February 1995, with a revised edition in May 2013. “The Tuskegee Syphilis Study” was released in May 1998. Gray served as counsel in the 1973 class-action lawsuit on behalf of men in the infamous study, their wives, children and families. 

ESU President Allison D. Garrett will present an honorary doctor of humane letters to Gray during his Thursday appearance. Also, copies of “Bus Ride to Justice” will be available for purchase both before and after the event. Gray will sign books after the Thursday night event. 

Gray’s appearance precedes Garrett’s formal inauguration, which is at 2 p.m. Friday. For more information, go to

His appearance during Constitution Day will be livestreamed. Go to



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