Gray, William Herbert, III

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Gray, William Herbert, III

From 1979 to 1991 William H. Gray served as U.S. representative from Pennsylvania's Second Congressional District. Gray, a liberal Democrat, chaired the powerful House Budget Committee during his last six years in Congress. In those years, he fought against the administrations of Republican presidents ronald reagan and george h.w. bush to preserve Democratic spending priorities. An African American, Gray also became a leader on U.S. policy toward Africa. He helped create and pass laws that imposed harsh sanctions on South Africa for its policies of apartheid.

William Herbert Gray III was born August 20, 1941, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His father was a clergyman and an educator who served as president of Florida Normal and Industrial College in St. Augustine and of Florida A&M College in Tallahassee. His mother, Hazel Yates Gray, worked as a high school teacher. In 1949, the family moved to Philadelphia, where Gray's father became pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church. Gray's grandfather had served in the same post since 1925, and Gray would follow his grandfather and father to the Bright Hope pulpit in 1972.

Gray attended Franklin and Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he served an internship in the office of Representative Robert N. C. Nix Jr. (D-Pa.). Although Gray felt stimulated by his brief experience in politics, he followed his father and grandfather into the ministry after his graduation in 1963. In 1964, he became assistant pastor of the Union Baptist Church, in Montclair, New Jersey. He went on to earn a master of divinity degree from Drew Theological School, in Madison, New Jersey, in 1966, and a master of theology degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1970.

While working as a minister, Gray became active in community projects, winning particularly high praise for his efforts to improve housing for low-income African Americans. In 1970, he brought suit against a landlord in Montclair who had refused to rent to him because of his race. The New Jersey Superior Court awarded Gray financial damages in a decision that set a national precedent (Gray v. Serruto Builders, Inc., 110 N.J. Super. 297, 265 A.2d 404 [1970]). Gray also served as a lecturer at several New Jersey colleges and as an assistant professor at Saint Peter's College, in Jersey City, New Jersey.

After his father's death in 1972, Gray became pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church and continued his involvement in community politics. Convinced that he could accomplish more in a position of greater power, Gray decided to challenge his former employer, Nix, in 1976 for the Democratic nomination to represent Pennsylvania's Second Congressional District. He lost the primary by only 339 votes. In 1978, he challenged Nix in the primary again and won, and then earned a decisive victory over his Republican opponent in the general election. In the House, Gray became a member of the Foreign Affairs, District of Columbia, and Budget Committees and was an active member of the Congressional Black Caucus. On the Budget Committee, he brokered crucial budget compromises between the House and Senate and developed a keen understanding of the intricacies of the federal government's money matters. An unapologetic liberal, he fought doggedly against the conservative policies of President Reagan.

On January 4, 1985, Gray was elected chairman of the powerful Budget Committee. During budget negotiations that year, he salvaged many programs that the Reagan administration and the Republican-controlled Congress sought to cancel, including Urban Development Action grants and the Appalachian Development Program. He also froze the defense budget at the previous year's level in order to reduce the budget deficit. Gray opposed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, also known as the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act, 2 U.S.C.A. §§ 901 et seq., however, calling it a "flawed doomsday machine" that would destroy worthwhile programs. The law mandated automatic budget cuts unless specific deficit-reduction targets were met. Gray argued that the act led to budget padding and discouraged efficient management.

In 1987, Gray whittled the budget deficit down to $137 billion, $7 billion under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings ceiling. He accomplished this through military spending reductions and tax increases. In negotiations for the budget of fiscal year 1989—the year in which the Federal Budget first exceeded $1 trillion—Gray successfully lobbied for more tax increases to meet the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings targets.

Gray worked throughout his congressional career to increase aid to black Africa. In 1980, he became the first rookie member of Congress to create a new government program, when he sponsored the bill that established the African Development Foundation (22 U.S.C.A. §§ 290h-1). The foundation sent aid directly to African villages. In 1984, he sponsored legislation that sent emergency food aid to Ethiopia. Gray also exerted a great deal of influence over African affairs, authoring and promoting passage of the Anti-Apartheid Act (22 U.S.C.A. §§ 5001 et seq.), which imposed economic sanctions on South Africa for its policies of racial Segregation. The act passed in 1986 over President Reagan's Veto. In addition, Gray worked to foster better relations between African and Jewish Americans.

As he rose in the House, Gray became increasingly influential in the Democratic Party. In 1988, he chaired the panel that drafted the party platform at the Democratic National Convention. The following year, he was named to the powerful position of House majority whip.

Gray encountered difficulties when unconfirmed rumors of financial wrongdoing surfaced in 1988. He left Congress in 1991, surprising many who had predicted that he would continue to rise in the House. The same year, Gray became president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the nation's oldest higher education assistance organization for African Americans. More than half of the $1.8 billion raised throughout the organization's history (which spans more than 50 years) has taken place during Gray's tenure. He has been instrumental in establishing a number of new research and funding programs, and he has ensured that administrative costs remain below 15 percent of the fund's total revenues.

In addition to his duties at UNCF, Gray has continued to be active in public affairs. In 1994, President bill clinton appointed him envoy to Haiti. Gray advocated using economic sanctions against that country's military dictatorship in order to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

Throughout his career, Gray has received numerous awards, including the martin luther king jr. Award for Public Service in 1985. And, in its December 1999 issue, Ebony magazine named him one of the 100 Most Important Blacks in the World in the 20th Century. Gray also has received honorary degrees from over 60 colleges. Despite his heavy work schedule over the years, he has continued to preach sermons at Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia at least two Sundays per month.

"The difference between myself and old-line folks is that I understand that the political process is putting together coalitions."
—William H. Gray

Gray married Andrea Dash in 1971. The couple has three sons.

Further readings

United Negro College Fund. 2002. William H. Gray, III Testifies Before the Senate About Impact of the Digital Divide. Press Release, February 27. Available online at <www.charitywire.com/00-03025.htm> (accessed July 6, 2003).