President Obama and NAACP President Ben Jealous Pay Homage to Rep. William Gray

4798From the president of the United States to civil rights leaders and educators, several Americans paid homage to former Congressman William H. Gray III, the first African-American majority whip in Congress and former president of the United Negro College Fund, who died Monday in London at the age of 71.

William H. Gray III with Desmond Tutu. (Photo: AP Photo/Peter Morgan, File)
"Bill Gray was a trailblazer, proudly representing his beloved Philadelphia in Congress for over a decade as the first African-American to chair the Budget Committee and to serve as the Majority Whip," President Obama said, in a statement.

"Bill's extraordinary leadership, on issues from housing to transportation to supporting efforts that ended Apartheid in South Africa, made our communities, our country and our world a more just place."

John S. Wilson, the president of Morehouse College, spoke not only of Gray's service in Congress but the role he played while leading the UNCF in securing $1 billion from Bill Gates for African-American colleges.

"Beyond appreciating him for being an extraordinary pastor, politician and educator, I will always appreciate Rev. Gray because he fundamentally improved the value proposition of Black educational enterprise when he attracted the $1 billion gift to the UNCF," Wilson said, in an interview with "That was extraordinary."

Gray died while he was in London with one of his sons to attend the Wimbledon tennis championships. A renowned minister who succeeded his father as pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, he was elected to Congress in 1972, representing Philadelphia.

"At Bill's invitation, I was honored to serve as a guest speaker at Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, where Bill served as pastor until his retirement in 2007," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California), in a statement.  "I feel fortunate to have had the distinct honor of working with him over the years, as both a colleague and a friend."  

He served as chairman of the powerful budget committee and became the first African-American in the 20th century to become majority whip of the House of Representatives. While in that position, he wrote legislation implementing economic sanctions against South Africa.

Source: BET | Jonathan P. Hicks and Musu Sirleaf
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