Upon graduation from law school in 1954, Fred Gray Sr., the renowned civil rights attorney for Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and many other leaders of the Civil Rights Era, returned to Montgomery, Alabama with a personal mission "to destroy everything segregated" that he could find.
As the keynote speaker for this year's YWCA Heart to Heart Racial Justice Breakfast, Gray will discuss his 50 years of experience in combating the ills of racial inequality. The presentation takes place at 7:30 a.m. Friday, at the Montgomery Inn Banquet Center.
"In my opinion, he's a pioneer, one that I believe Cincinnati needs to be exposed to," says Charlene Ventura, president of the Greater Cincinnati YWCA
In accord with the YWCA's mission to eliminate racism, the fourth annual breakfast is a vehicle for people to have dialogue and hear information and experiences centered on racial issues.
"One of the goals is to be able to dialogue around history," says Barbara Smitherman, co-chair of the YWCA Racial Justice Committee.
Each year the program has featured individuals who have played a prominent role in landmark cases for racial justice and equality, according to Smitherman.
"The goal is to share the story of racial justice to the broader community," she says. "Hopefully, participants in the audience will get some information from Mr. Gray."
Gray is no stranger to the region.
Due to legislature barring blacks from Alabama law schools, he attended Case Western Reserve Law School in Cleveland. He received his first license to practice in the state of Ohio. According to his autobiography, Bus Ride to Justice, many southern blacks aspiring to become attorneys during the 1940s and '50, had to go to other states to attend school and practice law. Upon returning to Montgomery, Gray was one of two black attorneys in the entire city.
However, his return proved to be timely. As a 24-year old novice attorney, he served as legal counsel for Rosa Parks and assisted in developing strategy for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
"He was involved and lived through the bus boycotts," says Smitherman, who is also a native of Montgomery.
Years later, Gray served as lead counsel for the victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, another landmark, civil rights case.
"He brings with him a rich oral history that I think all should hear," Smitherman says.
The Heart-to-Heart Racial Justice Breakfast is at 7:30 a.m. Friday at the Montgomery Inn Banquet Center. Tickets are $40 a person or $20 for students. To register, call 513-699-1401