Esteemed civil rights lawyer Fred Gray grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1940s-50s, but to pursue his goal of “destroy[ing] everything segregated that I could find,” he had to leave the state to earn his law degree. Because African Americans weren’t allowed to attend Alabama law schools and Gray knew people who had moved to Cleveland, Ohio, he enrolled at Western Reserve, now know as Case Western Reserve University.
In recognition of the new edition of Gray’s memoir, Bus Ride to Justice, Case Western’s Think Magazine‘s Bill Lubinger spoke with Gray about his experiences at the school and about his experiences with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other civil rights events. They also talked about the new movie Selma, produced by Oprah Winfrey, in which Cuba Gooding Jr. has been cast as Gray.
Gray spoke with Lubinger about the revelation in Gray’s new edition of Bus Ride to Justice that he and Rosa Parks had discussed, prior to Parks’s historic arrest, the need for someone to be arrested to serve as an inciting incident to end bus segregation. Gray said, “She worked at a department store a block-and-a-half from where my office was located, so we shared our lunches every day and talked about the conditions on the buses. We talked about what one should do if asked to get up and give up her seat [to a white passenger], and I knew Mrs. Parks was certainly ready to do whatever she could do to end these problems. And, of course, it developed that the opportunity presented itself and she refused to get up and give her seat and was arrested.” Gray subsequently consulted others in the community and made plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Lubinger asked about experiences at Case Western that had an impact on Gray’s life, and Gray recalled that “Professor [Samuel] Sonnenfeld, who was my faculty adviser, told me, ‘Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from more experienced lawyers and share the fee with them.’ If you notice, in all of my early civil rights cases, I always found some lawyer who had more experience than I had to be associated with on the case. It’s one of the guiding principles of my law practice.”
Finally, Lubinger asked Gray, “What do you think of the choice of Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. to play you in Selma, the upcoming movie about the civil rights movement? Any advice on how to play you?”
Gray replied, “I certainly would like the opportunity to talk with him and explain to him a lot of the details . . . and the conversations between Dr. King and me that no scriptwriter of a screenplay would know. I think he’s an excellent actor, and I’m sure he’ll do a very good job.”
Read “A Legal Legend” on the Think Magazine website.