...I was gonna leave, become a lawyer, come back to Alabama and destroy everything segregated I could find.

Fred Gray: Unlike students today, all of whom just about have automobiles to go to college, that’s wasn’t true in our days. So the only means of transportation I had was the public school system. And I would use it as much as twice a day, as little as twice a day and as much sometimes as six to eight times a day. Getting up in the morning to go across town to State, come downtown to check in at the office, go back on the East side where my district was, come back in the evening to check out, sometimes go back on campus where the library was and finally home in the evening. So I’ve seen a great deal of things that happened on the buses, and I’ve seen a great deal of people who have had some very unpleasant experiences. And so, while I have not had them myself, I was very concerned about them. And this was during the time that everything in Montgomery and this state was part of the country and all over the nation had been desegregated. And here segregation was done by state statutes that had gone (indistinct), they had no problems putting on the books that the races were to be segregated: transportation, amusements, wherever. And there were very few people in Montgomery at that time, and there were little to no lawyers who was handling any civil rights cases. At the time that I was here, there was no black lawyers here at all. There had been Mrs. (indistinct) some time, but she had left and went to Indianapolis and on to Alaska. And there were a few white lawyers here. Some would handle some civil rights cases, but if a person of color had a conflict, I don’t care how (indistinct) it was, with a white person, the chances of getting adequate legal representation was not very good and I thought that that should not be the case. I observed in new Mr. Nixon and in this town for the most part, if you had any racial problems, the average person would go to Mr. Nixon for that. We also had another gentleman here named Mr. Lewis, who had been a former clerk at Alabama State and who owned a nightclub called “The Citizen’s Club.” Mr. Lewis was mainly interested in voter registration and getting people registered and helping to get them elected. And as a condition of membership in his club, if you wanted to get in The Citizen’s Club, you had to be a registered voter. So during my junior year at Alabama State, and this is at a time, I was about 19, I concluded that in addition to being able to do, was really what Montgomery needed was a good lawyer, a lawyer who would be willing to handle civil rights cases. So I decided to, I made a secret commitment for myself and made enough sense not to tell anybody about these ideas, and that secret commitment was: I was gonna leave Alabama, ‘cause I couldn’t go to the University of Alabama law school without, because of my race. And at that time Alabama, like all of the southern states had a procedure where an African-American wanted to pursue a graduate course or a professional course that was offered at the white University and not offered at the colored College, then they would give you some financial assistance, it was that type of financial assistance.

I decided to go to Western Reserve University in Cleveland. I didn’t even tell my mother that I was thinking about law school until I had been accepted. And one day at the dinner table I just eased to her a copy of the letter that I had received that, that had admitted me to their first-year law school class. And she read it and she said, “Well, Mr. Smarty, you have gotten admitted. So you gonna get the money from?” (Indistinct) me going out and trying to hustle up. So that commitment that I made was I was gonna leave, become a lawyer, come back to Alabama and destroy everything segregated I could find. And it’s easy for me to sit here now and tell you that was my commitment, but the question is: how in the world do you know that was true? Well, you don’t know. But if you look at the record, and I’ve described a great deal of this in Bus Ride to Justice, which, well it’s an autobiography of mine, it really tells about the civil rights movement from Prime to Rosa Parks through and up to 1965.

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