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Civil Rights Attorney to Speak at Emporia State

June 15, 2016

Presentation precedes presidential inauguration

Fred Gray Sr.A renowned U.S. civil rights attorney who stood alongside Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., will give a special presentation at Emporia State University in September to launch the presidential inauguration festivities at the university.

Allison Garrett, 17th president of the university since its founding in 1863, will be inaugurated on Friday, Sept. 16. Garrett assumed her role in January. Fred D. Gray Sr., will give a public presentation the evening of Thursday, Sept. 15, then speak to middle- and high-school students the next morning as part of a university-sponsored Constitution Day event.

“I am honored that Fred Gray will come to speak at Emporia State University,” said Garrett. “Rather than just having a front-row seat to history, Mr. Gray gave much of his life to change the very fabric of our country. His experiences and insights remain current today.”

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.

Inauguration festivities for President Garrett coincide with Family and Friends weekend at Emporia State University.

“We want to involve all of Hornet Nation and the Emporia community during our celebration,” said Jennifer Denton, vice president for stewardship and administration for the ESU Foundation and associate vice president for university advancement.

Denton is co-chair of the inauguration committee with Jim Bartruff, director of theatre and professor in the Department of Communication and Theatre.

Plans include an inauguration ceremony the afternoon of Sept. 16 followed by a community reception and celebration. 

Family & Friends weekend events on Saturday, Sept. 17 include open houses and activities on campus before the football game against Missouri Southern State University.


More information:

Fred Gray Sr.:

ESU presidential inauguration:



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