Fred Gray: So my coming back to Montgomery wasn’t by accident. It wasn’t that I was coming here for something else and happened to have been brought into the movement. And it wasn’t something that was thrust upon me. But it was something that I came to do because it was what I wanted to do. I saw a need which was not being filled and felt that I should try to do that. I already knew Mr. Nixon, he had helped me to persons to sign affidavits so I could qualify to take the Alabama bar and he had encouraged me to be a lawyer. And so had some other persons, vocally. So I came back I was admitted to the bar–took both of the bar exams, was fortunate enough to pass both the first time, and on September, yeah, on September 8, 1954 I was licensed to practice in the state by the Supreme Court. I immediately began to work in the areas that I had talked about working in. Mr Nixon had asked me to form a group of senior high school students and college-age students to encourage their parents for voter registration, so we formed what was called the YAD–the Young Alabama Democrats, and we had teenagers of every kind. Mrs. Parks was working with NAACP and I knew the president of the branch, so I began to work in that area and, really, the very first civil rights case that I handled in this city–and everybody know about Ms. Parks, and everybody know about Dr. King and some others, but very few people know about Claudette Colvin.
Claudette Colvin was a 15 year-old African-American and I never tell the story about Montgomery without mentioning Claudette. It’s been almost a one-man crusade for 48 years. People are now beginning to write about it, they’re now beginning to talk about it. But Claudette, on February 2, 1955–this was almost nine months before Mrs. Parks was arrested–Claudette lived in the section of town called King Hill, which is northeast. She went to school at Booker Washington which is on the, down the southeast. And she had to get on the city bus, come downtown, change buses, get on the old park bus, go out the other side. She was coming home that day, changed buses on the square downtown and boarded Capitol Heights bus, same place nine months later Mrs. Parks boarded Greenwood Avenue bus. Ms. Parks went up Montgomery Street, she went down Commerce Street for one block, to Commerce and Berry. And she was asked to get up and give her seat to a white man. And she didn’t get up. And she didn’t walk off. They literally drug Claudette off the bus. I represented Claudette in the Probate Court of Montgomery County. And Mrs. Jo Ann Robinson, who worked at Alabama State and who had had a problem herself on the bus in 1948 and it wasn’t a place as another, to get up from her seat to give a white man her seat. And it was almost an empty bus, and she sat a little ways back, the driver wanted her to sit further back. But anyways, she was then president of a women’s political council and decided that they would begin to document everything that would happen on the bus. So they had a record of various incidents which would occur. And I talked to Mrs. Robinson, I talked to Mr. Nixon and a few other persons who were interested and we went to Claudette’s, we went to bat for Claudette and told the city it’s an issue and told the bus company it’s an issue, and threatened to have a bus boycott if they didn’t do better.
Of course, I wanted to file a suit because that’s what I was here to do in the end, but they felt the time was not quite right to do that. And, but I did represent Claudette, but later on. Well, then, we later found that another lady, Mary Louise Smith, was arrested in October, and of course Ms. Parks was arrested in December. And I think one of the things that really disturbed the community about Ms. Parks’ arrest, in addition to her arrest, was the fact that they didn’t charge her with violating a segregation ordinance, they really charged her with dislawful conduct. And they didn’t want to charge her with violating a city and a state statute, because they didn’t want to testify, and that would have given them the opportunity. I knew Ms. Parks very well, still know her well, and she worked a block and half from where my office was located and we would have a drink every day. We would talk about everything from segregation and youth to voter registration, and just make it a talk. We met the day that she was arrested, we had lunch that day. I had another engagement out of town, and when I got back, I heard it. And I had phone calls from her, from Mr. Nixon, from my secretary, from everybody, telling me that Ms. Parks was arrested. And I talked with Ms. Parks when I got back, she asked me to come by, and I talked with Mr. Nixon and we were very far from Ms. Parks. And then I went and spent most of the rest of evening talking with Jo Ann Robinson, at which point we talked about what we felt had happened in this case, and not let what happened to Claudette happen to Mrs. Parks. And as a result of those conversations, then there were a lot of series of meetings. You know about all the meetings. You know about the ones we had here, you know about the ones outside and basically you’ve been at–after Mrs. Parks was arrested, and I represented her. And Dr. King was elected the spokesperson and introduced it to the community and to the world at the Hope Street Baptist Church, because most people did not know that she had been (indistinct). Because this church did not then have the reputation that it has now, it just was a small Baptist church that the African-American community usually attended. And most of the people who worship here were people who had state connected jobs, so you couldn’t really depend on them to place their jobs on the line for these issues, even though they would certainly support it. But they did it more behind-the-scenes than out front.