Princeton University has awarded civil rights attorney and former Alabama state representative Fred Gray with an honorary degree during the university’s commencement exercises on Tuesday.
Gray, once described by Rev. Martin Luther King as “the chief counsel for the protest movement,” celebrated his 91st birthday in late December.
“At so many seminal moments of our civil rights era, he was the lawyer: for Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin, when they refused relegation to the segregated section of the bus; for students unlawfully denied admission to the University of Alabama; for victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study,” said Louise Sams, chair of the Princeton Board of Trustees during the ceremony Tuesday. “His legacy includes four landmark decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court; hundreds of desegregated schools; and generations of lawyers, activists and citizens who have heeded his call to “finish the unfinished tasks of destroying discrimination and segregation wherever found.”
U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, congratulated Gray on the achievement in a release made Wednesday. Sewell has previously urged President Biden to award Gray with the Presidential Medal of Freedom– the nation’s highest civilian honor.
“As a proud Princeton alumna and member of the Princeton Board of Trustees, I am so excited that Attorney Fred Gray received an honorary degree from my alma mater for his trailblazing work to help end segregation and advance a more equitable future for all Americans,” Sewell said. “Attorney Gray is a true drum major for justice, and I can think of no one more deserving of this distinct honor. Congratulations, Attorney Gray, and may your lifelong dedication to equality and justice inspire the next generation of change-makers!”
Earlier this month, Gray received an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Alabama. The honorary degree came nearly 59 years after Gray represented Vivian Malone, one of the first two African-American students admitted to the college, during her attempts to enroll at the then-segregated University of Alabama.