Fred Gray has been and is one of the most recognized lawyers in the state of Alabama. He has a long history of involvement in the civil rights struggle.
Gray came to prominence in 1955 as the advocate for Rosa Parks and was one of the first lawyers to represent Dr. Martin Luther King.
He brought cases to integrate the bus system in the City of Montgomery, to return African-Americans to the Tuskegee city limits and open the door for redistricting and reapportionment legislation, to protect the right of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to do business in Alabama, to reinstate students improperly expelled from Alabama State College, to require the State of Alabama to protect marchers walking from Selma to Montgomery in pursuit of the right to vote, and to remedy systemic exclusion of blacks from civil juries in Alabama.
Gray represented Vivian Malone in her 1963 case to open up the doors of the University of Alabama to African-Americans and he also served as lawyer on the case of Franklyn vs Auburn University which opened the doors of Auburn University to Aftrican-American students.
In 1970, Gray became the first black Democrat elected to the Alabama Legislature. This history making step gave him the opportunity to oppose what he considered unjust legislation. It also gave him the opportunity to initiate what he considered to be beneficial programs for his constituency.
Gray's litigation has been pivotal in integrating institutions of higher learning in Alabama, and in 104 of the 121 elementary and secondary school districts in the state. As recently as 1993, he argued on behalf of Alabama State College that there are remaining vestiges of racial discrimination in Alabama's higher education system.
In 1972 Gray represented the black men whose syphilis had been left untreated by the U.S. Public Health Service. The men had signed up with the health service in the 1930s for free medical care. The health service was conducting a study of the effects of syphilis on the body. Gray told CNN, "In 1932, these men were taken advantage of by being used as human guinea pigs. Their lives were placed in jeopardy...without their knowledge or consent." The lawsuit on behalf of the men was settled for around $10-million and drew an apology from the President of the United States.
He served as president of the National Bar Association in 1985-86. In July 2002, Gray will become the first African-American to serve as president of the Alabama State Bar Association.