Minister, Legislator William H. Gray T’66

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“Martin Luther King Jr. would come have dinner with us—our families were friends for three generations. I thought of him as a friend, an older brother,” says William Gray. It would turn out to be an auspicious relationship—in 1966, when Gray graduated from Drew’s Theological School, King installed him as senior minister of the Union Baptist Church in Montclair, N.J.

Gray remembered King on February 4 in his keynote address for “Living the Dream,” a Drew University series celebrating the 45th anniversary of the speech that the civil rights leader gave at Drew. Gray told the audience that further progress on racial equality could be achieved by what King called “continuing the struggle.” “Go and stand up for justice, be inclusive,” said Gray. “In doing it, you and America will be stronger.” Gray, who retired in 2007 after 35 years as pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, has a long and impressive résumé, including serving as president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund and as a U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania, where he was the first African American to become House majority whip.

Currently founder and chair of the Amani Group, a consulting firm, Gray remarked in his speech that widespread support for King wasn’t there at the outset. “I can remember black preachers condemning Martin,” Gray said. “He was not popular, even among black folk.” Gray remembered that during one visit to his family’s house, King had to care for a wound after being “stabbed by a black woman at a book signing in Philadelphia. The knife came within a half an inch of his heart. King said, ‘Don’t blame her. She didn’t know what she was doing,’”

Adapted from an article in The Acorn by Laura Cloak C’09

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