The Black University of Iowa Student Who Participated in Freedom Summer

In the summer of 1964, six students from the University of Iowa traveled to Mississippi to participate in Freedom Summer, an effort to register Black voters. One of those six University of Iowa students was an African American.

Seymour Gray Jr., a junior at the University of Iowa, traveled South with his five White peers in a station wagon loaned to the students by a faculty member. The group pulled over on a Mississippi highway to get some sleep. Gray, knowing it was dangerous for the White college students to be seen with a Black colleague, got out of the car and climbed a tree to sleep to protect his fellow students should they be confronted by White vigilantes or law enforcement officers.

Gray returned to the University of Iowa and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1965. That spring he participated in a hunger strike in support of civil rights protestors in Selma, Alabama. He later earned a law degree from the University of Ghana. He died in Des Moines, Iowa, on December 23, 2013.

The University of Iowa is seeking more information about Gray from students, teachers or others who knew him during his year at the university or later in his career. Readers with information can use the comments section of this post to supply information.


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  1. David McCartney says:

    Thank you for sharing Mr. Gray’s story, and I hope to hear from individuals who knew him so that his contributions are remembered.
    David McCartney, C.A.
    University of Iowa Archivist

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