Civil Rights Attorney Fred Gray Receives NAACP LDF’s Lifetime Achievement Award

The 92-year old activist, state legislator, and preacher was honored for his numerous contributions to America’s most important civil rights battles.

Fred Gray, the attorney who fought some of Black America’s most important legal battles, is referred to as the “Chief Counsel” of the Civil Rights era. For his heroics in American history, he received his flowers Thursday night (May 4) from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where the group gave him its Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I have received many awards, but none of these awards…means to me as much as this award coming from the Legal Defense Fund here in honor of Thurgood Marshall,” said Gray during an acceptance speech at the organization’s 35th National Equal Justice Awards Dinner on Thursday (May 4) in New York. Gray was among several honorees at the dinner, including billionaire Robert F. Smith, chair of Vista Equity Partners, philanthropic company the Emerson Collective, and Nike Inc.’s Jordan Brand.

Gray is 92-years old and still practicing law. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Joe Biden in 2022 for his steadfast work at the forefront of several Civil Rights Movement cases. The most notable is the Supreme Court case in which the NAACP started legal action against the city of Montgomery, Ala. This resulted in the desegregation of the bus system there after the defiance of Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin and others, which resulted in a yearlong bus boycott in 1955 and 1956.

Fred Gray stands in front of the Newton Church of Christ on Ferguson Street in Montgomery, Alabama, where he served as a minister while beginning a law practice in the 1950s.

He was also the attorney for men who were unwittingly involved in an experiment conducted in Tuskegee, Ala., by the U.S. government for more than 40 years. In the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, hundreds of people were afflicted with syphilis and went untreated by government doctors who wished to study the effects of the disease. He secured a $10 million settlement for the survivors and their heirs in 1974.

The 60th Anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott - Dec. 1, 2015 marks 60 years since Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, boldly took her seat in history by refusing to give up her spot in a whites-only section on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus. Her arrest led to a more than a year-long organized boycott African-American residents against the racist city bus company. The action led to the Supreme Court decision ruling bus segregation illegal in the state. looks back at the boycott on this landmark anniversary.  (Photo: Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

History Makers: A Look Back on the Montgomery Bus Boycott 60 Years Later

A contemporary of Marshall, these were two of many cases that he handled in a nearly 70-year career in law in defense of Black people and working in tandem with the Legal Defense Fund. During his speech, he explained why he chose working as an attorney as a way of making a difference.

“I became a lawyer in Montgomery, Ala., when I saw we were having problems on the buses,” he said. “They said lawyers help people solve problems, so I decided to become a lawyer, and not just a lawyer anywhere; I wanted to become a lawyer in Alabama and destroy everything segregated I could find, and in 67 years I’ve done that.”

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