LANSING, Mich. — (WLNS) — WLNS partnered up with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan for its 38th annual signature event.

Fred D. Gray headlined the MLK Commission’s event.

Gray has been one of the nation’s leading civil rights attorneys for over 60 years. He is still practicing law at the age of 92. President Joe Biden recently awarded Gray the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Fred Gray is the preeminent civil rights attorney – his boldness and courage at a young age to fight for equality and the dismantling and destruction of segregation, particularly in the Deep South during such a tumultuous period in our history, paved the way for other lawyers and social rights activists to engage in the civil rights movement,” said Elaine Hardy, commission chair.

Gray, a Montgomery, Alabama native, began his civil rights career in 1954, less than a year after graduating from law school. His first civil rights case involved Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old African American high school student who refused to give up her seat on a city bus. Less than a year later, he represented Rosa Parks, who was arrested when she, too, refused to give up her seat, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was also the first civil rights attorney for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

During his career, Gray has represented the Freedom Riders, the Selma-to-Montgomery Marchers and Tuskegee Syphilis Study victims, and he has won countless school desegregation and voting rights lawsuits.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan is the nation’s longest-running, continuously operating MLK commission, and its annual Day of Celebration is the nation’s largest MLK Day luncheon event.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first time the event is in person at the Lansing Center since January 2020. For the first time in the commission’s 42-year history, the “MLK Day of Celebration” event in January 2021 was held virtually and broadcast on television rather than staged in front of a sold-out audience of up to 2,200 people.

It featured Bernice King, global civil rights activist and daughter of Dr. and Coretta Scott King and won an Emmy® Award for excellence for broadcast production in the historical/cultural category from the Michigan Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

“We are thrilled to be back in person this year at the Lansing Center to honor Dr. King and the many civil rights advocates, thought leaders and changemakers,” Hardy said. “We’re equally as excited to be able to share Fred Gray’s remarkable and courageous story and illustrious, trailblazing career that has spanned several decades and advanced a more equitable future.”

The theme for the 38th annual MLK Day of Celebration is: “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

In addition to his groundbreaking work litigating prominent civil rights cases and being dubbed “chief counsel of the civil rights era,” Gray was a trailblazer in the legal world, serving as one of the first African Americans in the Alabama Legislature since Reconstruction and being elected as the first African American president of the Alabama State Bar Association. He is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, American College of Trial Lawyers and International Society of Barristers, and served as the 43rd president of the National Bar Association.

Gray is the recipient of numerous awards including the Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit from the Washington Bar Association, Harvard University Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion, the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award and the Federal Bar Association’s Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award. He is also an ordained minister, celebrated lecturer, former legislator and successful author.

Many organizations, including City of East Lansing and City of Lansing, actively support the commission’s work. Corporate sponsors that are donating $10,000 or more are Cinnaire, CASE Credit Union, Delta Dental of Michigan, Jackson, LAFCU, Lake Trust Credit Union and Michigan State University Federal Credit Union.

Mark McDaniel, Cinnaire CEO, will return as master of ceremonies. Winners of the commission’s student essay contest will be recognized and $17,500 in prizes and scholarships will be presented at the celebration event.