To be honored are four individuals with Alabama ties who have made significant contributions in the humanities in their lives and careers: Marquita Davis, Ph.D., deputy director, Early Learning, Pacific Northwest for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Fred Gray, attorney and nationally recognized civil rights activist; Howell Raines, retired executive editor of the New York Times; and Jody Singer, director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.
“This is our third year of The Colloquium, and each year brings us new inspiration as we hear from such distinguished people who have had such an impact, not just in our state but around the world,” said AHF Executive Director Armand DeKeyser. “To think that they all have Alabama ties makes us proud and makes this event so special.”
All four fellows will be featured in a live conversation moderated by National Public Radio’s Michel Martin. They will be talking about their lives, their careers and the role humanities have played in shaping their perspectives. Martin is host of NPR’s All Things Considered, and this will be her second time to moderate the annual event.
Davis leads the Gates Foundation’s multi-state early learning strategy, which aims to ensure that all young children have access to high-quality, effective and affordable preschool.
Prior to joining the foundation in 2017, she was the executive director of a large, anti-poverty community action agency in Birmingham – the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity. At this same agency, she previously served as deputy director of child development services overseeing two early childhood federal programs, Head Start and Early Head.
Appointed by two governors, Davis also served as the director of Finance for the State of Alabama, commissioner for the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs and Pre-K director for the State of Alabama.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University, a master’s degree from Alabama A&M University and a Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education and Development from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Gray’s legal career has spanned over 60 years. As a young lawyer in the 1950s segregated South, Fred Gray represented Rosa Parks, who was arrested because she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, igniting the Montgomery Bus Boycott, City of Montgomery v. Rosa Parks. He was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first civil rights attorney.
Civil rights cases he won may be found in most constitutional law textbooks. They include, but are not limited to decisions that led to:
Integrating buses in the City of Montgomery in 1956; returning African Americans to the city limits of Tuskegee, opening the door for redistricting and reapportioning and laying the foundation for the ‘one man one vote’ concept; enabling the NAACP to resume its business operations in Alabama after being outlawed; reinstating students expelled from Alabama State College unconstitutionally; protecting and preserving rights of those involved in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study; allowing African Americans to serve on civil juries; integrating all state institutions of higher learning; and ordering Governor Wallace and the State of Alabama to protect marchers walking from Selma to Montgomery for the right to vote. The march eventually led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
He graduated from Alabama State University in Montgomery and Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio. He returned to his native Alabama to practice law in a state that denied him the right to attend law school.
Gray was one of the first African Americans to serve in the Alabama Legislature and the first person of color elected president of the Alabama Bar Association. He lives in Tuskegee and is senior partner in the law firm of Gray, Gray & Nathanson, P.C.
Gray serves or has served on the board of trustees for Case Western Reserve University, Faulkner University and Alabama Department of Archives and History. He is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and International Society of Barristers.
His awards include: American Bar Association’s “Spirit of Excellence Award,” Minority Caucus of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Soaring Eagles Award, Harvard University Law School’s “Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion, American Bar Association’s “Thurgood Marshall Award and the Federal Bar Association’s “Sarah T. Hughes Civil Rights Award” and member of the Alabama Academy of Honor.
Gray is the author of Bus Ride to Justice, first released in 1995. Revised Edition was released in 2013, previewed at the Jimmy Carter Center and broadcast on C-Span Book TV. He also is author of The Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
A Birmingham native, Raines began his journalism career in Alabama in 1964, working, respectively, for the Birmingham Post-Herald, WBRC -TV, the Tuscaloosa News and The Birmingham News.
He joined the Atlanta Constitution in 1971 and was political editor in 1973-74. In 1976, he was hired by Eugene Patterson as the political editor of the St. Petersburg Times, covering Jimmy Carter’s presidential candidacy. He joined the Atlanta bureau of the New York Times in 1978.
During Raines’ 25 years at the Times, he served as Atlanta Bureau Chief, National Political Correspondent, White House Correspondent, London Bureau Chief, Washington Editor, Editorial Page Editor (1993-2001) and Executive Editor (2001-2003).
In 1993, he won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for “Grady’s Gift,” a New York Times Magazine article describing his friendship with Grady Richardson, a black housekeeper employed by his family during the era of segregation.
He is the author of four books: Whiskey Man, a novel; My Soul Is Rested, a history of the Civil Rights Movement; Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis and The One That Got Away, memoirs.
Raines earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Birmingham Southern College and a master’s in English from the University of Alabama. He holds honorary doctorates from both institutions.
He is married to Krystyna Stachowiak Raines, a writer and former journalist for Polish news outlets, and they split their time between homes in Fairhope and Henryville, PA.
Singer manages one of NASA’s largest field installations of nearly 6,000 on- and near-site civil service and contractor employees and an annual budget of approximately $2.8 billion.
Singer has had an impressive career with NASA, beginning her NASA engineering career in 1985 through the professional intern program in the mission planning and development office. Before being named the 14th Center Director – the first woman to hold that post – she served as deputy director of the Center. She also served as deputy program manager for the Space Launch System program, or SLS – the only rocket designed and tested from the ground up to return humans to deep space.
Singer spent a number of years supporting the Shuttle program. It was Singer, who was responsible for safety during the ground test program that led the agency back to flight after the Columbia accident.
She has been recognized with numerous awards during her NASA career, including NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals and two Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive Awards, the highest honor for career federal employees. She received the Space Flight Awareness Leadership Award in 2005 for inspiring the Shuttle Propulsion Office to strive for excellence and continuous improvement; and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 1993 while managing the External Tank project’s business office.
A native of Hartselle, she earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Alabama in 1983. She has completed two NASA Fellowships – one at Pennsylvania State University in State College and another at the Simmons College Graduate School of Management in Boston.
Singer and her husband, Chris, live in Huntsville. They have three children and two grandchildren.
The Colloquium opens at 11 a.m., followed by a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. and the program at noon. More information, tickets, tables and sponsorships are available at https://www.alabamahumanities.org/alabama-colloquium/.