Civil rights

Montgomery renames the street for civil rights icon Fred Gray

The street Fred Gray grew up on now bears his name.

Montgomery City Council voted Tuesday night to rename Jeff Davis Ave., removing the Confederate president’s name and changing it instead to Fred Gray Ave.

“It is important for us to recognize the sacrifice and contributions of Lawyer Gray,” Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said at Tuesday’s meeting. “He came back here with the aim of destroying everything that was separate, and he did all he could. I think it’s very important for young people who are growing up not only in this part of the city, but in all parts of the city, to see how he changed this country and overcome obstacles, but with class and dignity. It is very, very important.

“I just think it will be a huge tribute to someone who has done so much for this city, this state and this nation.”

The board vote approving the name change was unanimous. Two of Gray’s grown children, Fred Gray Jr. and Stanley Gray, were in attendance holding new street signs with their father’s name on them.

Gray was the most influential lawyer in the civil rights movement. He represented Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin. He filed the lawsuit, Browder v. Gayle, who ultimately broke up the Montgomery buses. He filed the federal lawsuit that allowed walkers to travel safely from Selma to Montgomery. He filed the lawsuit that disaggregated Alabama colleges and disaggregated over 100 individual school systems. He filed the lawsuit that allowed the NAACP to operate in Alabama.

Gray was also Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal attorney and successfully defended him against tax evasion charges in the 1960s.

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Gray said he returned to Alabama after graduating in law with the intention of “destroying everything that was separate.” His efforts to do so were largely successful and ultimately changed not only Alabama but the entire country.