Civil rights attorney who represented Martin Luther King Jr., Ro - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Civil rights attorney who represented Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks makes rare visit to DC

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It's a rare treat when Fred Gray is in Washington. Who is Fred Gray, you ask?

He's an 82-year-old, still-practicing attorney from Tuskegee, Ala., who happened to represent the likes of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the start of the civil rights movement.

"He was a good listener," Gray says of Dr. King. "He would participate in conversations. He had a sense of humor. He liked jokes. He liked to tell them and listen to them, and some of the jokes were not jokes he could tell in the pulpit. But he was a good, practical person."

Of Mrs. Parks, who ignited the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, Gray says: "Actually Mrs. Parks was probably the most qualified person in Montgomery to be active in the civil rights movement."

Gray spoke to a gathering of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Washington Thursday night.

On Saturday, he will receive an honorary doctorate degree from Morgan State University in Baltimore.

When he was graduating from college 62 years ago, Gray says he had three goals: to become a lawyer, to return to Alabama, "and begin my quest of destroying everything segregated I could find."

In an update of his memoir, "Bus Ride to Justice," first published in 1995, Gray says it was actually a 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin who launched the civil rights movement - on March 2, 1955 while coming home from school on a city bus in Montgomery.

"She sat in a seat that she had sat in before and had no problems,” says Gray. “But on that particular day, more white people came on the bus than usual and they asked her to get up and give her seat to a white person. She told them she had a constitutional right to be there. She had paid her fare. She didn't move. And she was arrested."

Her parents hired Gray to represent her.

"I was ready then to file a lawsuit on her behalf in federal court," he tells us. "But the power structure, the black power structure in Montgomery, didn't feel that the time was quite right then."

They felt differently when Rosa Parks got arrested nine months later.

"But Claudette Colvin laid the foundation, and then the whole story of Mrs. Rosa Parks and how I represented her was really the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the civil rights movement," says Gray.

So what is his message for today's college graduates?

"When you're doing something that's right, even though it may be contrary to the majority opinion, if it's right, then stick to it,” he says.

Fred Gray also happens to be the uncle of FOX 5 News reporter Karen Gray Houston. She says Dr. King and her family remained close over the years and that Dr. King had planned to visit her family in Cleveland days after that fateful visit to Memphis in April 1968.

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