ACU presents American icon Fred Gray with honorary
For Immediate Release
Dec. 16, 1999
Dr. Fred Gray, Martin Luther King's first attorney and a
civil rights specialist, accepted an honorary Doctor of Laws
degree from Abilene Christian University Dec. 10 in honor of
all forgotten civil rights lawyers and the unsung heroes
whose faces will never be known.
"Many of you have heard of Rosa Parks, and she is
definitely a hero," Gray said during his address at December
commencement. "But how many of you have heard of Claudette
Colvin. She was a 15-year-old African-American girl
arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man
- nine months before Rosa Parks. She gave moral courage to
all of us, including Rosa Parks, who on Nov. 28 received the
Congressional Medal of Honor."
Don Crisp of Dallas, chairman of ACU's Board of Trustees,
hooded Gray, and ACU president Dr. Royce Money presented the
"You are as much an American icon as the people you
represented," Money said to Gray, who was the lawyer for
Rosa Parks and the first attorney for Dr. Martin Luther
"I am honored, humbled and elated by the honor you have
bestowed upon me tonight," Gray said. "It is a long way
from Montgomery Park, Ala., to Abilene, Texas, the key city
in the Big Country with friendly people."
Gray explained this was his third trip to Abilene. He
was invited by the City of Abilene to speak Jan. 19, 1992,
during Abilene's first Martin Luther King birthday
celebration. At that time, he challenged the city to make
MLK's birthday a holiday. He said he was happy to see the
city now celebrated King's birthday as a holiday.
His second invitation was from Money, who invited Gray
and about 30 other church leaders to attend a "One in
Christ" conference in late October.
"At that time, I expressed my concern that this
university should seriously consider diversifying this
campus at all levels -- students, faculty, staff and members
of the Board," Gray said. "I'm happy to know ACU is
committed to increase diversity - not because they are
compelled to do so, but because it's the right thing to do.
It's what Jesus would do."
Gray said diversity and race relations are important
today in America. He recalled more than 30 years ago, then
Alabama Governor George Wallace stated, "Segregation today,
segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
Gov. Don Siegelman, elected Alabama's governor in 1998,
has had dramatic success is making the state government look
more like its citizenry. Alabama moved from 37th to 13th in
how their leaders mirror their population, Gray said.
"A government that looks like the state it governs boosts
the confidence of the citizenry," he said.
Several times, Gray made the point that one person can
make a real difference. He also praised the power of the
law to change society.
"I have succeeded in breaking down the walls of racial
barriers in transportation, voter registration, healthcare
and in other areas of life," he said. "Demonstrations were
important for getting mass participation and the public's
attention. But lawsuits created and interpreted the law and
gave people their rights. Unfortunately, historians have
written lawyers out of the civil rights movement."
Therefore, Gray said, he was accepting the degree for all
civic rights lawyers who have been forgotten and the unsung
heroes whose faces will never be known.
He told the graduates they had inherited a legacy from
their parents, their churches and the Christian university
from which they were earning their degrees - a legacy of a
country were freedom reigns ... and a society where the
majority of the people look like much of Gray's
"According to the U.S. census, by 2035 the white majority
will be in the minority," Gray said. "You need to prepare
to live in a society where you are no longer a
Gray reminded the students they were the last ACU
graduates of this century, adding that they needed to learn
to live and work in the new millennium.
Here were his suggestions:
- Put God first.
- Know that prejudice is wrong and needs to be
- Commit yourself to destroying prejudices wherever you
- Seek to serve rather than being served.
"We live life in a highly materialistic society," he
said. "If all you want is money, it's not worth it. Live
life to make a difference. When I decided to become a
lawyer, I didn't know what lawyers earned; I just saw how
bad it was in Montgomery."
Gray told them to "find their calling - one in which you
can render service to others and to the Lord."
One way to improve race relations, he said, is for
everyone to look around them.
"If everyone around you looks just like you racially,
that should place you notice that something's wrong," he
said. "Once you find that it exists, determine to do
something about it."
He challenged each person to select a person of a
different race and make the person a best friend. And if
the first person chosen doesn't work out, he said, "Don''
give up. Try it again!"
"It's a simple step in the right direction," Gray said.
"We have racial problems today because we don't know each
And he closed with one final note of advice for the
graduates: "Find your niche. Use your degree to make a
difference in your life and in the lives of the people with
whom you come in contact."
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