A Civil Rights Hero Gets His Medal!

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Dear NJ Institute for Social Justice friend,

For the past 20 years, I have had the awesome privilege of doing racial justice work that feeds my soul.

Today my soul is full.

At his invitation, I had the honor of accompanying Mr. Fred Gray, whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to as “the brilliant young Negro who later [be]came chief counsel for the protest movement”, at the White House, where President Biden awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mr. Fred Gray receives the Presidential Medal of FreedomA living legend at 91, Mr. Gray helped to transform America.

He received his law degree in 1954 and began his career in Alabama with one mission in mind: to destroy everything segregated.

Mr. Gray went on to represent Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks. He was Dr. King’s first civil rights attorney.

And one day after Bloody Sunday in 1965, Mr. Gray filed a lawsuit on behalf of John Lewis and others that allowed marchers to peacefully cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama and march on to Montgomery in pursuit of voting rights. That historic march led directly to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and within just one generation the election of America’s first Black president. America owes Mr. Gray a debt of gratitude.

We all rightly know the names of Dr. King, Claudette Colvin, Rosa Parks, John Lewis and President Barack Obama.

But people behind the scenes, the people whose names many of us don’t know, alter the course of history, too.

In recognition of his great contributions, we honored Mr. Gray at our Gala last year with our Lifetime Engineer for Social Justice Award.

As we honored him, it became clear that he also deserved the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

So the Institute team partnered with our friends at Change.org to launch a campaign, building on a decades-long effort, urging President Biden to grant the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mr. Gray. More than 22,000 of you lifted your voices and signed our petition.

And today, it happened! Today, America recognized one of its great heroes with its highest honor.

Thank you for joining our march to ensure that Mr. Gray received the honor he is due.

And thank you for partnering with us on all our work.


Ryan P. Haygood

President & CEO, NJ Institute for Social Justice