Duncan Gray Jr., retired bishop and civil rights activist, dies in Jackson

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Retired Episcopal Bishop Duncan Gray Jr., on Sept. 26, 2012 in Jackson, recalls for reporters events surrounding the integration of the University of Mississippi.Gray was rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Oxford during the 1962 integration of the school.

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Retired Episcopal Bishop Duncan Gray Jr., on Sept. 26, 2012, in Jackson, recalls for reporters events surrounding the integration of the University of Mississippi.

Duncan Montgomery Gray Jr., retired Episcopal bishop of Mississippi known for his civil rights activism, died Friday morning at his home in Jackson.

Bishop Brian R. Seage was with Gray when he died, according to the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi. Funeral services are pending.

Born Sept. 21, 1926, in Canton, Gray was the 7th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, serving from 1974 until 1993. He succeeded his father in that post.

As a priest in the southern U.S., Gray was best known for his work as a civil rights activist, especially his efforts to bring calm to the University of Mississippi campus in the fall of 1962 during the all-white school’s integration by James Meredith. Gray was rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford at the time.

Gray was the subject of a book by Will Campbell titled And Also With You: Duncan Gray and the American Dilemma.

Gray was preceded in death by his wife, Ruthie Spivey, in 2011. The couple are survived by sons Duncan III and Lloyd, daughters Anne and Catherine and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Duncan M. Gray III was the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi’s ninth bishop.

At the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where Gray graduated with a bachelor of divinity degree in 1953, he worked with the faculty to overturn the school’s longstanding policy of banning African Americans. The next year, he drafted a then-radical document urging the then-segregated Episcopal Church to take a stand against racial discrimination following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against segregation in public schools.

He termed segregation “incompatible with Christian gospel.”

During the Ole Miss riots, in which two people were killed, Gray attempted to calm the crowd and clung to a Confederate monument on the school’s campus as he spoke. Eventually he was pulled down and beaten.

Earlier that day from St. Peter’s pulpit, Gray told his parishioners that Christians should do their “utmost to uproot and cast out” the seeds of “anger and hatred, bitterness and prejudice.” His comments so enraged half his congregation that they left.

In an October 2015 interview with The Christian Century, Gray said U.S. race relations have improved.

“We’ve still got a way to go,” he said. “But we’ve come a long way from where we were back then. … It just blows my mind when I stop and think about it … but we live and learn.”

After attending high school in Greenwood, Gray graduated from Central High School in Jackson in 1944. He entered the Navy and was sent to Tulane University on the Navy-12 Program. He received his engineering degree there in 1948 and was commissioned a Navy officer.

Gray began a secular career at Westinghouse Corp., then three years later decided to enter seminary. He graduated in 1953 from Sewanee and as a parish priest was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Divinity from his alma mater in 1972.

His father ordained him to the Diaconiate April 8, 1953, and to the priesthood that October.

After Oxford, Gray served as rector at St. Paul’s in Meridian until 1974 when he was elected bishop, a post he held for 20 years.

As bishop during a turbulent time, he supported the controversial revision of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and the ordination of women.

  • Otis

    He will be truly missed.