tv Civil Rights Activism CSPAN July 10, 2021 10:00pm-11:03pm EDT
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>> our guest speaker will be taking questions later on in the program. we want to make sure that you help us along with keeping him busy with your questions. we're going to be using the youtube chat, so if you want to get a little practice now, put your hometown and city -- hometown, city, state in there so i can give you a shoutout later on in the program. i'm delighted to introduce our keynote speaker and conversation today. civil rights attorney fred gray, preacher and activist, who continues to practice law in alabama today. he litigated several major civil rights cases in alabama, including some such as browder versus gale that reached the supreme court. he represented rosa parks, martin luther king, john lewis, among many other civil rights luminaries. his success in the courtroom on civil rights is what makes up much of today's textbook for law students. i could go on. let's hear from mr. gray.
are you with us? >> thank you very much. >> terrific. we're happy to have you today. how are you doing? >> i'm doing fine, and i want to thank the foundation and those of you who are responsible for having this program. i sat and listened some of the incidents from slavery time forward and just happy to be a part of your program here today. thanks for the invitation. >> absolutely. we're honored. we talked a few days ago. i've had the honor to read your biography and seen some of your other interviews. i have my own questions. we will get to the audience questions along the way as well. i wanted to start with a quote that i pulled out of your biography that struck me.
you opened up with one of your chapters with the words segregation was the order of the day. when i was admitted to practice law in alabama, in september of 1954, we were segregated from the cradle to the grave, from the toilet to the train, from the courtroom to the classroom. that really struck me. so the first -- as the first step in our conversation, can you take us back, help our audience understand a little bit about your background, what it was like to grow up in montgomery, and your experiences that started it all off. >> well, you have to understand that i was born december 14th, 1930. that's over 90 years ago. in montgomery, alabama, the
confederacy, the first president was inaugurated there. as a youngster growing up, my father died when i was 2. i'm the youngest of five children. we had -- i had very little contact with white people when i was growing up, say, from the 1st through the 8th grade. we lived in a black community. we went to a black church. all of our neighbors were black. the only contact we would usually have with white people is that our parents would work for them, and that's the way it was. we had separate everything. and not only did we have those and did we grow up under those conditions, but the streets usually were unpaved.
there was very little water. at least you would have to go to a central place, where there may be a hydrant where you would get water. so african americans lived a very subservient life to that of white americans. that is the montgomery that i knew, and i had very little contact with any white persons for many years. >> at what point in your life did -- we had a program a week or so ago about the tulsa race massacre. obviously before that there was the red summer. in our video before, we showed some of the lynching maps. obviously there was race violence in alabama. what was your personal experience that sort of drew you
into becoming a civil rights lawyer, as you beautiful say, your goal in life, it was and is is to continue to destroy segregation. >> when i grew up in my community, there was really no discussion about lynching. there was no discussion really about segregation, about white people. we knew that we were black and that we worked for white people, and we went to black schools. my mother was very religious, and my father was very religious, so i had a religious background, and i guess my first experience really with white people, i probably met the lady who my mother worked for. a lady named betty aldridge.
she did domestic work. to show you the kind of relationship they had, when i was born, i was born as fred lee gray, but my mother was working for ms. betty, and ms. betty told her when she came back to work, after i was born, she thought that my middle name should be david. you know what my mother did? my mother officially changed my name from lee to david. i grew up under an all black environment, and i was very religious, and one of our preachers was from tennessee. and they said when i was young, because i was baptized in a church in montgomery, when i was 8, and understand, our preacher
said there were about two things that a black boy in alabama at that time professionally could look forward to, and that was he could be a preacher or a teacher. and so since i was religiously inclined, this preacher knew about a church of christ boarding school in nashville, tennessee, for black boys who wanted to be preachers, and he told my mother even though she didn't have any money, that she ought to try to send me to that school so i could learn how to preach. and he did. while i grew up in the ghettos of montgomery, attended school, when i was in 8th grade, our preacher took me to nashville, the church of christ black school there to learn how to be
a preacher. and i still have come in contact with white people -- except at that school, while it was a black school with all black students. we had two teachers who were white. one taught us public speaking, trying to learn how to be a preacher. and there was jw brandt who taught us the bible. that was my first real direct contact with them. the preacher who was the president of our school decided his responsibility was to grow and recruit students and raise money, and he went to these black churches and decided that he would take some of these little boy preachers, let them preach. they would go to these black
churches, and he would tell them you send us your boy, and we'll send you a man back. i got to be talented pretty good little preacher because he took me around, so i went throughout the southeast. when i finished high school, i knew a little something about preaching. i came back home, lived on the west side of montgomery, and i was going to attend alabama state college for negros. that it was then. it's now alabama state university. it is on the east side of town. so i had to then ride this public transportation system. i would have to walk about three or four blocks to where the bus stop was, and then we would go on the bus from the west side of town through downtown to the east side of town, where alabama
state -- so i was riding the buses. though i didn't have any problems myself, there were many people who were mistreated on the buses. the first 10 seats were always reserved for white people. if there wasn't enough for the first 10 seats, then they would have the rest of them -- the black people would be asked -- the bus driver would ask the ones in the first four seats to get up, and they would have to get up, and sometimes they would take your money, in the front, you would have to go back out and get in the back, so you wouldn't have to walk through white people. i found out then that there were some real problems about how black people were being treated. i heard about a man who had an
altercation on the bus, and as a result, he was killed. i decided in addition to preaching, and they told me that lawyers helped people to solve problems, and i thought that black people in montgomery had problems at that time, and i made a personal commitment while i was a student at alabama state college, between december of 1947 and may of 1951, that i was going to finish alabama state, and i was going to become a lawyer because they told me lawyers help to solve problems. and i wasn't going to the university of alabama because i knew everything was segregated and they wouldn't accept me.
there was a program where they would pay a portion of the tuition enrollment board for blacks if they wouldn't go to the university of alabama or auburn university for graduate school or professional school, but those courses they could not get the historical black school, alabama state, alabama a&m in tuskegee. the other part of that was i was going to take advantage of some money they would give us in order to go out of state to take those courses to keep us from going to the white schools. but i was going to become a lawyer, and this is the part i didn't tell them about. i told people i wanted to be a lawyer, but i didn't tell them what kind. i was going to finish law school, take the alabama bar exam, pass the bar exam, become a lawyer and destroy everything segregated i could find. that was my commitment as a
youngster, an upper teenager in the cradle of the confederacy. my introduction of becoming a lawyer, and now i've been one for over 65 years. >> that's an extraordinary story, and obviously just the beginning of some of things we want to dig into today. you're in that law school, i think some of your fellow alumni are on this. you want to give a shout to your law school, where you attended? >> oh, yes. i attended what was then western reserve university in cleveland. it is now [inaudible] west reserve university, merged with institute of technology, which was right next door and a very good merger for them. that's where i went to law school. that was my real first experience of living in an
integrated society. i lived on campus, in one of the homes that they had. they had a house mother there. and there were blacks and whites who lived there. however, it just so happened that the two black students who lived in the room were assigned in the same room, and he was from monrovia liberia, but i also at reserve, i had a very good experience and had no problems at all, but i had to convince myself because this is the first time i was in a white environment that i would be able to really compete with white
students. >> it worked out very well for you and for all of us. let's fast forward a little bit to you passed the bar exam, which i know there were a few hurdles along the way to getting as we approach you didn't have a big law firm to walk into in alabama. you started out on your own, you know, with some help of a few others, but let's get sort of up to the boycott and some of the real attraction here which i think a lot of folks have tuned in to hear about. the montgomery bus boycott, nine months before that, claudette coleman didn't give up her seat. i know there's been over the last probably five, ten years a little bit more press about that. but you were on the ground. why didn't that start the boycott?
>> because that was -- a lot of things happened between that and the reserve university law school and my graduation and preparing myself to pass the alabama bar exam. i was able to get that done. after getting that done, i had met ed nixon who was a black crop holder in montgomery alabama and was a friend of our family, who had been the president of naacp in montgomery. he had encouraged me to go to law school because he was always trying to help black people who had problems with whites and trying to improve conditions. so when i got back, he helped me to get lawyers so i could be able to take the bar exam. and once i took the bar exam,
and i took the ohio bar exam first, in june, and then the alabama bar in july, just in case, and when in august i was told i had passed both. of course i had no intention of practicing law in ohio, so i'm back in alabama. i passed the bar exam. lawyers couldn't advertise like they can now. so when i got back, the people that i knew, worked with me, i had an open house of my law office so people would know i was there, and it wasn't long -- and i had met mrs. rosa parks who was the secretary to the montgomery branch of the naacp. she was also the youth director, and i had known her from the time i was in at alabama state.
so with those, we ended up opening up the office, and mrs. parks assisted in that. i found out that she was working in the department store, a block and a half from where my office was located. we talked every -- she would usually bring a little lunch to my office during the middle of the day, and i didn't have any clients at that time. we talked about problems. we talked about the buses. we talked about if a person had a problem and was asked to get up off the seat, what they should do, if they didn't want to do it. and then it was only about six months after i started practicing, that claudette, the 15-year-old girl, who lived the northeast section of montgomery,
was arrested while refusing to get up and give her seat to a white person. when she did that, her parents didn't know anything about me because i'd only been back for six months, but their preacher knew about ed nixon, and they had heard about ed nixon, so mr. nixon recommended to claudette's parents that they get this young black lawyer to represent her when she was arrested, and they did. at that time i thought this was a good opportunity for me. but now i have to raise all these issues in this case before the judge who was the judge of the juvenile court of montgomery
county. and i raised these issues, and they had charged her with being a delinquent and in assaulting an officer because when she was arrested, she didn't voluntarily just walk off. they almost had to drag her. she didn't resist, and she didn't fight back. but the judge listened to me. but in the final analysis, he found her to be guilty -- found her to be a delinquent and placed her on unsupervised probation. i was ready then because i knew ultimately we were going to change the laws, we were going to have to go to court, and i was prepared to do that. but i'm not sure the montgomery community, the black community even was quite ready for it, but there were some people that as a
result of that case, joanne robinson, who taught at alabama state, and i had known her since the time i was in college there, she got an appointment with the bus company officials and with the city officials about the claudette colvin case, and that -- while african americans were about 75% of the patrons that were being mistreated, she wanted to get better treatment. said they were sorry about what happened and would see to it that didn't happen again. but that was the end of that. but i knew as a result of that, that there were a number of people in montgomery, black people, robinson, nixon, mrs. parks, and claudette colvin and her family who wanted something done about the buses. and mrs. robinson after setting up that meeting, she had had a
personal experience back in 1948, on the buses. we would keep a record of it, and i knew there were some people who wanted it, and there would be a later date and another opportunity, and that later date and opportunity came with mrs. parks, on december 1, 1955. >> that's a great segue, and i know you said you were meeting with her, having lunch, so, you know, one of the perceptions is she was this sort of quiet timid seamstress who decided one day she was tired and didn't want to get up. but in fact you said she was involved in naacp and the two of you were talking about what to do, whatnot to do, so that day when she sat down, were you ready or waiting for the call? tell us a little bit about that. >> on december 1st, was a
typical december day in alabama, and i told mrs. parks, when we finished that i had to go out of town, so i kind of wanted her to know that i would not be there, and while she never told me that if she received the opportunity, that she was not going to get up, but i believed all the time that if that opportunity presented itself to ms. parks, she wasn't going to push for it, but if it came, she would be an ideal person. and she would do everything that you would want a client to do and still not give up the seat until she's arrested. if arrested, then go ahead, but i wanted her to know that i was not going to be in town that
evening. when i got back, from my trip, it was after office hours, i had a call from ms. parks, a call from my secretary, and a lot of calls. the first call was ms. parks call because i had heard that she had been arrested. and she told me she had, asked if i would come over to her house so she could tell me what had taken place, and she wanted me to handle her case and set it for the following monday. that's what i did. i went over, talked to ms. parks. mrs. parks told me what had taken place and that her case was set to be tried on monday at 8:30 in the city of montgomery. this is not thursday evening. monday is not too far away. i told her, though, don't worry
about your case, ms. parks. i'm going to take care of it. i will get back in touch with you over the weekend and get you prepared for what you need to be prepared for on monday. however, there's another matter that i mentioned to ms. parks. i said ms. parks, you know, there's been talk in the community for some time that the community -- this problem is so great, that the community needs to get involved in it. and joanne robinson, the professor at alabama state, has been a leading person, and she's now chairman of the women's political council, which was an organization of black professional women to improve all conditions for african americans, and she had been talking about doing something, because she had had a problem herself. i told her that i want to talk to ms. robinson and see what she
thought because i think if we're going to do anything, we need to do it now. but first i want to go and talk to mr. nixon because he got you out of jail. i wanted him to know that i'm going to be representing you. i went from her house to mr. ed nixon's house. i told him about my conversation with ms. parks, told him that we needed then to -- i was going to go and talk to joanne robinson to see if we at this time would try to get the community involved, so we would have mrs. parks case one the one hand going on, the community involved, and i left to ms. joann robinson's house. it is getting pretty late now on december 1st and early december 2nd. joanne and i sat in her living room and made the plans for what
we later called a protest and what people called a bus boycott. what we concluded in her living room that night and early morning was one, the community needs to be involved in it; two, that we need to try to get the community to as a protest so that the montgomery community of black and white will know that we're serious, having to stay off the buses at least for a day, as a protest, meet at a church and decide where we go from there. and that was the second thing. and i said well, that's fine. i said but if we're going to do that, if they stay off of the buses like we want them to do, we're going to have to be prepared to help them get to work and do whatever they need to do in the interim, so we're
going to have to have a plan, and we're going to have to have those plans all together between now and monday morning when we're talking about doing this. as a result of that, we concluded several things: one, if we're going to do that, we've got to have a leader, somebody to serve as a spokesman. normally e.d. nixon would have been that person, but there was also another man named rufus lewis who was interested in voter registration and when people get elected, holding them to office to do something while they are there. and that those persons need -- going to need -- there's followers of both of them, so we need to get them. joanne says i know who the spokesman ought to be. it ought to be my pastor, martin luther king, haven't been in town long, haven't been involved
in any civil rights activities, but one thing he can do, he can move people with words. i said fine. i said let me suggest these other two leaders because we need them to be in key roles. e.d. nixon, he knew the black labor leader in new york, was president of his union, and if we make him the treasurer, you're going to need money to try to help do all the work that needs to be done, and randolph would help him do it, make him treasurer. then rufus lewis, a former coach at alabama state, well respected, was the owner of a nightclub called the citizens club. in order to get in that club, you had to be a registered voter, but his wife was the co owner of the largest [inaudible]
in town. they have automobiles. they only use automobiles basically when they have film services. the we make him chairman of the transportation -- if we make him chairman of the transportation committee, then his wife along with others in the state would be able to help get people transported in their automobile. the only other thing you need, well, you need a lawyer. as a result of what we did there, that was the conclusion, martin luther king, to be the chair, the president; ed nixon the treasurer, rufus lewis chairman of the transportation committee, and the young lawyer just out of law school to serve as the lawyer for them. we sowed those seeds, and joanne said let's get through with our meeting.
we assigned responsibilities to each one of us. she said i'm going to go and get some leaflets out now and say another black woman has been arrested on the buses. a trial is monday. at a protest, stay off of the buses. and there will be a meeting on monday evening. when the meetings were made, as a result of the seeds that we sowed, and neither one of us -- it couldn't be known that we were doing this planning because if she had been known what she was doing, as a teacher at a state-supported school, she would have been fired. she was fired anyway, but it was much later. and i would have gotten disbarred before i got barred good, but the seed was sown. the information was given out. when the buses started on monday morning, very few blacks rode
the buses. we had mrs. parks' trial. i knew to begin with that they were going to convict her. i raised the various constitutional issues, got the information i needed from the witnesses from the city during the trial, and i knew the jury was going to find her guilty -- i knew the judge was going to find her guilty, which he did. he fined. we arranged for the appeal and then proceeded to make the plans for the mass meeting at the baptist church that night which introduced dr. king to the nation and to the world, and all in the meantime, there had been meetings held in between it where those persons we had recommended, each one of them were elected to the particular
person, and when dr. king spoke that night, and it was announced what was going on, the rest of it was history, and we knew that what we did in her living room was now something great. we didn't know where it was going, but we knew it was something that needed to be done, and this was the first step. >> what incredible insight, thank you. i just realized i'm in a trance listening to you, and many more questions -- and i know our audience has questions as well. i will ask a couple more and encourage our audience to put your questions in the chat. so you know, mr. gray, we have folks from new jersey, new york, the greater washington, d.c. area, montgomery, south bend, tuscaloosa, jackson, mississippi; florida, virginia beach, iowa, as i mentioned western reserve as well
represented, denver colorado, wilmington, delaware, massachusetts, obviously a national audience is excited to hear you speak. changing gears a little bit because i have a feeling we will have a few questions about martin luther king so i will save that one. you have a great story about the boy from troy. could you talk a little bit about your introduction to him and your impression of him as a young man. >> yes, john lewis was from troy, alabama. he lived a rural area about 50 miles south of montgomery and about 50 to 60 miles tuskegee. and he had heard about dr. king and read about him in the bus boycott -- boycott. this was 1958. he wanted to go to troy state, which was a white college in his home county. they wouldn't accept him. some of the kids down there
tried to use the library, and they couldn't use the public library. so he wrote a letter to dr. king and said he wanted to talk with him about going to troy state. dr. king him sent him a bus ticket from troy, alabama, round trip to montgomery, and called me and told me when he was going to arrive at the bus station, and if i would go down and bring him to a meeting where reverend abernathy at his church and talk about the possibility of helping get him in troy state. we talked about it. we knew what the situation was. we knew he was a minor. to file a lawsuit, it would have to be filed by his parents, so he would have to go back and get his parents' consent, and then we would -- actually i agreed
that i would end up filing the suit if the parents wanted to do so. h e went back to troy. and unfortunately, his parents felt that the pressure that would be brought upon them was too great and that they just would not permit him to file a lawsuit because they had to live there with those people. however, he went on up to nashville. he was going to the seminary up there and became involved in the civil rights movement and ended up being one of the greatest civil rights leaders in the country. and it's unfortunate that we lost him last year. >> i have a question that relates to one of the ones i have been thinking about. you obviously faced incredible odds, with all the segregation
policies in place and violence surrounded you, going to martin luther king's house after it was bombed, following the freedom ride, the greyhound bus ride, you wrote in your book that you were at a meeting in a church, and you poked your head out the window to see the crowds -- mob is probably a better word that had amassed and got a rock or a brick to the side of the head. the question from the audience, you have remained for decades calm, cool, and collected in face of all this. how do you persist in such a calm state? >> well, actually dr. king had set the example to begin with. he said publicly and privately
that our movement must be non-violent. we don't have as many guns and we can't win. i recognized and those of us who had leadership roles then realized that nonviolence is what we have to teach our people and hope they will abide by it, and for the most part, during the early stages of the movement, that did -- the violence took place, but it wasn't on our part. it was on the other part. i did get a little knot on my head as a result of being in the church, but that was a small part of it. many people lost their lives because of it, but it set a pattern so that we could accomplish some of the things that we have accomplished since the time when everything was
completely segregated, when i started practicing law in 1954. >> you were obviously making a name for yourself, and i would guess -- hazard a guess there were many white lawyers that did not care for that, and so there was i know an effort to disbar you probably more than once. can you tell us a little bit about maybe one of those experiences professionally? >> what was that? i missed that. >> the effort to disbar you, could you talk a little bit about that experience? >> the experience with -- >> to disbar you as a lawyer because of your work? >> oh, because i mentioned to you about claudette colvin. you know, that was the first case that i handled. and we know about rosa parks'
case. but because of the deep-seeded segregation that we had, with help along the way, i was able to file lawsuits that ended up doing away with segregation, public transportation, improving the right to vote, public education, discrimination, bond subs subsidies, almost every law we've now been able to get declared unconstitutional at all these aspects, and we have done it on a non-violent basis, using the law in order to accomplish those things. while those of us involved in it had some personal problems that we incurred, it didn't stop us
from doing it. but the struggle for equal justice continues, and we have to keep trying. >> for our audience who may not be familiar with your whole personal story, the irony here is in 2002, you were elected as the first black president of the alabama state bar association. when you were approached for that, was that stunning to you? how did you feel? how did that unfold? >> well, actually i never thought about being president of alabama state bar because, you know, you're elected by members of the bar. and all the lawyers in the state have a vote on it. and my civil rights records and knowing that lawyers in many instances of the state bar association have been instrumental in trying to keep and perpetuate segregation, so i was not going to put myself out
there, but there was a white lawyer, white female lawyer in birmingham, who had gotten us to handle some cases for her in our part of the state. she thought our firm had done a good job, and i had done a good job, and she said fred, you need to be president of the state bar. i said carol, you're crazy. why should i put my head in the news and volunteer to do that? she said well, we're having the birmingham -- we're having the bar association annual meeting in birmingham that year, and she said when you come up there, i'm going to introduce you to some people. she introduced me to some people. they talked with me about the possibility of running. i told them that one, i wasn't going to just get out there, but i would listen to what they say,
and the only way i'll do it is i will have to run uncontested, because if one of these white lawyers decides to run against me and talk about my civil rights background, they're going to win, and i'm going to lose, and i don't need that. she did it. i did what they recommended. i was elected to be the first african american president of the alabama state bar, and when you get a letter from the alabama state bar association now, it will say lawyers under service, that's the motto for it, but that was the motto i used when i was president elect in order to get lawyers to realize that we render service, and the bar association sometime later ended up adopting it. we were able to get more
diversity on our bar commissioners. we started the alabama lawyers hall of fame. those were three major things that i was able to do as president of the state bar association. and next week, the president of the state bar is going to come here, and i understand the alabama state bar is going to give me some sort of resolution and an award, and i'm going to be the speaker for them at the annual convention on i think it is the 15th of july at the bar meeting. it's been a good thing, and i've enjoyed it and tried to be a good lawyer. >> quite an evolution from the very beginning when you were taking the bar exam to start off. we have a few more minutes. i have a couple of questions from the audience. have you ever worked with reverend james lawson? >> who?
>> reverend james lawson? >> name's lawson? lawson? >> yes. >> where is he from? >> they did not say. >> didn't say? >> no. >> the name sounds familiar. it's not one that i had very much work with, but i may have. >> okay. what about reverend james hintton of south carolina? he worked with -- built the case with thurgood marshall that went to the supreme court. did you ever work with reverend james hinton? >> i didn't work with him, but thurgood marshall i did work with, as a matter of fact, when i was retained to represent the montgomery improvement association, i got on the phone and talked to mr. marshall and asked him to let me come up
there and talk to him and his staff and for them to help me with the legal work, and the first case that we filed was one of the cases that [inaudible] was counsel of record for me on that case. of course he went on to become a justice on the supreme court. >> absolutely. we do have a question. i know you were interested in talking about the tuskegee study and your work on that which was ground breaking. >> i had been filing suits for discriminating against african americans. in many instances the judge had designated the justice department to be a party to it then i found in 1972 that the
government itself had been engaged in a deadly deception with over 623 african americans in macon county, which tuskegee's county seat in connection with a study of untreated syphilis in the negro males and didn't tell them about it. i had to file a lawsuit against them. of course you can only file a lawsuit against the government, the way they say you can do it, and the terms and conditions of it, we were finally able to get that settled as much as we could, and then later on i found that there were some people that an apology by the government to those people and to the community should take place. a group had tried to do it. they hadn't been successful. i thought of a way of getting those men and having a press conference, and as a result of that press conference, on the
8th of april, 1997, president clinton end ed up granting the apology to them on the 17th of may of 1997, only just a little while afterwards, and then they told me as our lawyer we want you to do one more thing. we want a permanent memorial in tuskegee so people will know that we have made a contribution to this country. i told them if i live, we'll do that. some 22 years ago, we started the tuskegee civil rights multicultural center. one of the purposes of it is to have a memorial for those men, and if you come to that center, you will see a chandelier, was able to get a bank to give us the building, and we made it into it and it is really a memorial for those people, for those men.
in addition to that, that center also makes it possible so that you can see contributions of native americans, european americans, and african americans, all under one roof, and you will see the entire laws and regulations of the progress that african americans have made from slavery to today, and many of those cases were filed here. we invite you to come and see that museum here in tuskegee and support it. >> absolutely. i did not know about the museum before we started working on this program. it's on my bucket list now. i look forward to coming and visiting. >> thank you. >> we do have a few minutes left. i have two more questions. one brings us to today. i know we talked about the bus boycott that kind of kicked it all off.
you still practice law. six months ago you were in the headlines again about a street sign in your hometown. can you tell us about that? >> are you talking about the mayor wanting to name a street after me? >> yes. >> okay. mayor reed, who is the first african american to serve as a mayor of the city of montgomery. i left montgomery and came to tuskegee because i couldn't get what he was able to do almost 60 years later, but he came up here, after he was mayor and asked me what i thought the city of montgomery could do as a tribute to the work that i had done. and i lived on a street called west [inaudible] avenue. when i grew up and i suspect before i went to law school, i
probably didn't know who justin davis was. all i knew it was a street i grew up on. lived there from 1936 until 1956 when i got married, so any time i went anywhere, i had to go, and i thought that street, if it was named after me may be an encouragement to some other boys and girls who live in the ghettos of montgomery, and so he got to work on it. i never thought about the fact that it was the president of the confederacy was the name of it. it was just a street that i lived on, so they're working on it, and whatever they do, i said i will appreciate it. >> that's pretty incredible story given your career and your commitment. one last question for you, you know, we have seen incredible change in your lifetime. you've influenced that change. in the last year, there's been
quite a bit of social justice issues, violence, and could you tell us, do you have some parting words and advice for young people today? >> i think young people need to realize -- the young people today, there were young people who were instrumental in the beginning of the bus boycott, claudette colvin, 15, martin luther king was in his late 20s, abernathy was just a couple years older. i was a few years younger. and mrs. parks was in her 30s. so you had young people, and then there were young people at a and t in north carolina who started the sit-in demonstrations for students, and they also were students who started the freedom rides that
resulted in the desegregation of all the transportation systems, in this state too. so young people have played a very important role, including john lewis in the selma to montgomery march, when they were beaten back on bloody sunday, i filed that lawsuit before the close on the day of monday. these people did it in a nonviolence matter. there wasn't any looting. there were people who did violence, but the violence was against the persons. they were not involved. as they look back to see, the young people, the old people, the white people, the black people, everybody, those persons who were involved in the movement, they did it in a non-violent manner. and whatever we do, violence
isn't the answer. it wasn't the answer. jesus taught us to love one another, and if we do that and continue to use the methods that they find that we use as good, whatever new methods, and all of the technology that you have now, you can use that, but do it and do it in a non-violent manner because we still have problems which needs to be solved. >> very good. thank you very much, mr. gray. this has been an amazing conversation. i'm honored to be able to have it. your first person account is incredible. of course your personal story really is our collective story. you're a part of our nation's history, and i treasure the fact that we had a chance to talk today. >> okay, one final thing, if may i. >> please? >> and that is i will do it very quickly. the struggle for equal justice
continues. we have two basic problems that we're still facing in this nation, racism and inequality. it didn't just start. it started when we were brought here as slaves. so then i say to young people, to old people, to all those who are interested, and i say what john lewis said to me, we need to -- if we're going to solve the problem, we're going to have to get rid of racism and inequality. how are we going to do it? i suggest four things, one, you've got to have a plan. first of all, you need to declare that it is wrong. racism and inequality is wrong. start at the white house to the supreme court to congress. and once you declare it wrong, you've got to come up with a plan to get rid of it. as joann robinson and i had not made the plan in her living room
that night, there would not have been a montgomery bus boycott on december 5, 1955. it may have been later but it wouldn't have been then because nobody had made the plans for it. after you have the plan, you have to implement the plan. once you implement it, you are going to have to get involved yourself. you can't expect somebody else to do it. so what i want to tell you as i close and as i think about john lewis, he ended up talking with me a couple of days before his death, and he knew that it was coming, and i said to him, i said, what is it you would like for me to do and for others to do to continue to do your work? and he told me, he said, brother, keep pushing. keep going. set the record straight.
so i say to those of you who are on this program here today, racism and inequality, those are our problems that we need to work on. keep pushing. keep going. set the record straight. do it in a non-violent manner, and continue to do it until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. thank you very much. come see us tuskegee multicultural center and help support that museum. >> thank you very much, mr. gray. you have been a real inspiration today. we appreciate your time, your contribution to our story but also your time today. it's been really terrific. this week we're looking back to this date in history. >> for the past 194 years, americans have celebrated the anniversary of their independence here and in thousands of towns and cities
throughout the united states. this year's 4th of july celebrations were something special. the nationwide honor america day as it was called, was a nonpolitical observance with leaders of both political parties taking part. americans from all walks of life took this opportunity to find the common ground and affection for the country and to share that affection with others. the honor america day program was simply a celebration of the 194th anniversary of the day on which the colonies of north america declared that they were from that time an independent nation. and based the national independence on the concept of individual liberty. here in washington, the day-long program began at 10:30 in the morning. >> the morning activities
focused primarily on religious observances with protestants, roman catholic and jewish clergymen taking part. memorial to abraham lincoln, it is here that american entertainer pat boone opened the proceedings by introducing the star spangled banner, america's national anthem. >> this song was written at a cross roads time, a time of crisis in our nation's history. for over 150 years, it's helped unite americans. we stand today at a cross roads and in a crisis time, let us sing this song with love and conviction. ♪ ♪ ::
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next, emory university professor felix harcourt. then hear a personal story about escaping the holocaust. and later, civil rights attorney fred gray will discuss his work with rosa parks, martin luther king jr. and others in the civil rights movement. find more information on your program guide or at c-span.org/history. now here's professor harcourt on ufo conspiracy theories. >> let's start with a question that i'm sure nobody will have any problem having their answer recorded for television. show of hands, how many people believe alien life exists? yeah, pretty decent number of people. i'm going to throw in there as well. i think so, stephen hawking thinks so. in a giant universe, there is distinctly a probability that somewhere alien life