Lipscomb Honors Civil Rights Lawyer

This week Lipscomb University celebrates the career and ministry of civil rights attorney Fred Gray. On Thursday, June 7, Tokens–the musical, comedy, theological review– welcomes Gray as a guest at their “Tales of Reconciliation” summer installment at Lipscomb. Gray is featured because of his achievements in civil rights legislation: the defense of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the work around the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, as well as for his life-long devotion to Jesus Christ.

Once again the summer installment of Tokens aligns itself with Lipscomb University’s Christian Scholars’ Conference (CSC). On Friday, June 8, during the 32nd annual Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars’ Conference, the university will confer upon Fred Gray an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree.


“This is the highest honor the university bestows on an individual. It expresses Lipscomb’s proactive vision for integration at all institutional levels as integral to the university’s mission,” said David Fleer, professor of Bible and communication and director of the Christian Scholars’ Conference. The theme for this year’s CSC is “Reconciliation: At the Intersection of Scholarship and Practice.” Gray’s pivotal role in the civil rights movement makes this honor particularly fitting for this year’s conference, Fleer said.

Fred David Gray, a native of Montgomery, Alabama who lives in Tuskegee, is in the general practice of law specializing in civil rights litigation. He was educated at the Nashville Christian Institute in Nashville, Alabama State University, and Case Western Reserve University.

Gray began his legal career as a sole practitioner, less than a year out of law school. At age twenty-four, he represented Mrs. Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, the action that initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Gray was also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first civil rights lawyer He is further known as the counsel in preserving and protecting the rights of persons involved in the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study in 1972, the case of Pollard, et al v. United States of America. One of the first African Americans to serve in the Alabama Legislature since reconstruction, Gray was also the first African American elected as president of the Alabama State Bar Association (2002-2003). He also served as the 43rd president of the National Bar Association.

Along with Fred Gray, This year’s Christian Scholars’ Conference features keynote speakers Miroslav Volf, Yale theologian and international nonviolence advocate; Immaculée Ilibagiza, author of Left to Tell; and Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone. Session topics will range from “alleviation of poverty as reconciliation” to “questions of reconciliation in Terrance Malick’s film ‘The Tree of Life.’” Reconciliation will be traced through the civil rights movement in the U.S., Rwanda, Ireland, the Holy Land, cross-cultural missions, literature, environmental sustainability, restorative justice, business, the Hebrew Bible and the writings of Volf and Verghese.

The Tokens show will feature Mr. Gray; Professor Volf; and musicians Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue, Amy Stroup, along with the regulars, Odessa Settles and The Most Outstanding Horeb Mountain Boys. This installment has been selected for national distribution via public television stations throughout the country. Tokens already has an agreement in place for Nashville’s WNPT to distribute the show regionally. The June 7 show will be taped in HD and distributed on a national level.

For a full schedule of the Christian Scholar’s Conference, registration or more information about the keynote speakers, visit


Six Out of 1,914

I recently asked a group of African American educators if they knew a) how many African Americans have served as US Senators. I also asked if they knew b) who was the first African America US Senator. No-one in the group could answer either question. One person accused me of posing a trick question, which is entirely plausible since we don’t always agree on how African a person must be to be considered African American, But I meant it in the commonly accepted definition that has persisted in this nation: if a person has any discernible African blood—either by appearance or admission—they are considered black. The answers are a) six and b) Hiram Rhodes Revels.

Since 1788, 1,914 people have served as US Senators, up to 100 at a time. Thirty-eight of them have been women (There are currently 17 female Senators), five have been Asian, six Latino, three Native American and six have been African American.

Since Carol Moseley Braun is both female and African American, your good math skills will tell you that historically 1,857 US Senators in history have been white males. For the record that is 97% of all of our Senators, even though white males make up only 37% of the US population.

There are lots of ways to go with this discussion. But in honor of African American History Month I just wanted to introduce you to our six African American Senators. The first two served under Reconstruction in the 1870s, when African Americans had first been given the right to vote. By the mid 1870s local and state Jim Crow laws had begun to make it difficult for African Americans to exercise the vote that the federal government guaranteed. Eighty-five years passed before a third African American was elected to the US Senate.

Hiram Rhodes Revels

(1870-1871) Republican from Mississippi

A freedman his entire life, preacher and educator Hiram Revels became the first African American elected to the US Senate. When Mississippi seceded from the Union at the start of the Civil War, Mississippi’s Senators Jefferson Davis and Albert Brown resigned. At the end of the war their seats were left empty. Under the influences of Union Reconstructionists, the Mississippi legislature decided to fill those seats with one white and one black Senator. In 1870, after the 15th Amendment gave African Americans the right to vote. Mr. Revels was elected by the Mississippi legislature to serve in the US Senate.

Blance Kelso Bruce

(1875-1881) Republican from Mississippi

The second African American to serve in the US Senate, was the first African American to serve a full term. He was also the only ex-slave to serve in that capacity. Like Hiram Revels before him, he was elected to the Senate by the Mississippi legislature during Reconstruction.

Edward William Brooke III

(1967–1979) Republican from Massachusetts

Edward W. Brooke’s election to the US Senate in 1966 ended an 85-year absence of African American Senators. Brooke was the first popularly elected African American Senator, the first African American Senator outside of Mississippi, and first black politician from Massachusetts to serve in Congress. He is the only African American to serve more than one term in the US Senate.

Carol Elizabeth Moseley Braun

(1993–1999) Democrat from Illinois

The first and only African American woman to serve as US Senator, Carol Moseley-Braun was also only the second black Senator since the Reconstruction Era. She was the first Democratic African American Senator and the first of three black Senators from the state of Illinois.

Barack Hussein Obama

(2005–2008) Democrat from Illinois

Barack Obama won a landslide victory, defeating Republican African American Alan Keyes to become a US Senator from Illinois. He became the fifth African American in congressional history to serve in the US Senate, the second from the state of Illinois. On November 4, 2008, he was elected the 44th President of the United States, winning with 53 percent of the vote. As President-Elect, Obama resigned from the Senate on November 16, 2008.

Roland Wallace Burris

(2009-Present) Democrat from Illinois

Roland Burris is the only African American Senator to be appointed rather than elected either by his state legislature or by the people of his state. The third Senator from Illinois, Burris was appointed December 31, 2008, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Barack Obama. He is currently the only African American in the 100-member US Senate.

Even White Guys!

So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

sotomayor-with-pres-and-veep Just to set the record straight, the Creator did not begin with a generic white male and then decide to get really creative and diversify. Even if you conclude that God created a male first (and not simply a human), that male was not a generic white American man.

But the architects of the American experience WERE a bunch of white males (even though the nation was built on the backs of an extremely diverse populace), and, until 1967, ALL of our Supreme Court justices were white males (you knew that, right?).

In 2001, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a Latina, and now a Supreme Court justice, gave a speech to a Hispanic law group in which she explicated and defended the obvious: judges bring their experiences and backgrounds into the courtroom. One line out of the 8 pages (12-pt type, Times Roman) has made the rounds in the blogosphere.

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Once again a single line is taken out of context. One need only read or hear the whole speech to get the truth of it. But to be fair to her critics, this one line is ill-crafted. I don’t believe the judge meant precisely what she said (this was a speech, not a law brief).

Still, the real problem with the statement is that it begins the same place her critics begin: with the presumption that white males have no relevant backgrounds and experiences that they bring into the courtroom. Sotomayor thinks that’s a bad thing; her critics think it’s a good thing.

The issue her critics present is that the judge admits to bringing her background and experiences into the courtroom. I can almost imagine the bathroom meetings “What’s worse is she seems downright proud about bringing her experiences into the courtroom! This is what’s wrong with having a woman or a non-white on the court: they insist on bringing that non-white non-male stuff with them. Why can’t they be generic like all of the tried and true white male judges of yore? Damn the Sixties! Now we have black people, women, and brown people all wanting a piece of the pie.”

Don’t worry, George Will, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Richard Land, WSJ and all you other complainers; white men are still allowed to bring their background and experience to the bench too, as they have done virtually exclusively for over 200 years. But somehow we’ve pretended that the white males are devoid of background and experience. And they pretend that they argue purely the law. They delude themselves.

BTW, Justice Sotomayor doesn’t bring only her Latina experience and background. She brings the Sonia Sotomayor experience and background. Still with her confirmation, the court reflects a bit more of the actual diversity of the American people than it ever has. And despite her ascent to the bench, white males with their background and experiences still maintain a massive dominance on the Supreme Court.

We must begin to acknowledge: there is no such thing as a generic justice, a generic American, or a generic person. And whether we acknowledge it or not, our backgrounds and experiences go with us wherever we go, for good or ill.