Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL07) celebrated the White House’s announcement that President Joe Biden (D) will award attorney Fred Gray Sr. the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Gray, a native of Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District, played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, having represented Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks and John Lewis. King referred to Gray as the "chief counsel for the protest movement."

“I want to thank President Joseph R. Biden for his decision to award me the Presidential Medal of Freedom, indeed a high honor for which I am most appreciative,” Gray said. “Thank you, Congresswoman Sewell, for nominating me for this award. Thanks to many persons from all walks of life who sent communication to the president requesting that he bestow this honor.”

Gray successfully litigated a number of groundbreaking civil rights cases which led to the desegregation of public buses and the integration of the University of Alabama, Auburn University and Alabama’s public schools, among many other accomplishments. During the Montgomery bus boycott, Gray’s leadership and legal counsel played a crucial role in the successful desegregation of Montgomery buses. He defended Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks against charges of disorderly conduct for refusing to give up their seats to white passengers.

Gray is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives, a former president of the Alabama Bar Association and a former president of the American Bar Association.

“This award means a great deal to me, an African American civil rights lawyer who was born in the ghettos of Montgomery, Alabama,” said Gray. “It speaks volumes to civil rights workers who have devoted their talents and resources toward improving the quality of life of Americans in this country, and it speaks directly to African Americans in general. When I filed the various civil rights cases from 1955 to date, I was concerned about African Americans receiving the same constitutional rights as all other Americans. We have made substantial progress but the struggle for the elimination of racism and for equal justice continues. I hope this award will encourage other Americans to do what they can to complete the task so that all American citizens will be treated the same, equally and fairly, in accordance with the Constitution.”

Sewell has been working to secure the Presidential Medal of Freedom for Attorney Gray for over a year.

“Words cannot describe my excitement as we learn that President Biden will award attorney Fred Gray Sr. the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” said Sewell. “From the very beginning, I’ve known that there is no one more deserving of our nation’s highest civilian honor than attorney Gray, whose trailblazing work helped end segregation and advance a more equitable future. Attorney Gray is one of the most consequential civil rights lawyers of our time, having represented Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and the Foot Soldiers.

“I among others have fought hard to ensure that Attorney Gray receives rightful recognition for his groundbreaking contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, and I am overjoyed that President Biden will be giving him his flowers as he lives. Congratulations, Attorney Gray, and may your legacy of service and sacrifice continue to be a part of our nation’s story for generations to come!” 

In February 2021, Sewell sent a letter to President Biden requesting that he award Gray the nation’s highest civilian honor. She has since transmitted numerous endorsements and letters of support from key organizations including the Alabama Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and others. Sewell also helped secure key endorsements from her colleagues, including Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty and House Majority Whip James Clyburn who have communicated their support for Gray’s candidacy via their own letters and calls to the White House. Last December, Sewell celebrated Gray’s 91st birthday on the House Floor and once again urged President Biden to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award ceremony is scheduled for July 7.

Biden will award several persons the medal including gymnast Simone Biles, social justice advocate Sister Simone Campbell, former University of Texas at Brownsville President Julieta García, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs (posthumous), former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Father Alexander Karloutsos, Gold Star father Khizr Khan, COVID-19 nurse Sandra Lindsay, former Senator John McCain (posthumous), Civil Rights Movement leader Diane Nash, soccer player Megan Rapinoe, former Senator Alan Simpson, former AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (posthumous), retired Brigadier General Wilma Vaught, Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington, former La Raza President Raúl Yzaguirre.

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