Bill Gray, who was majority whip of the Democratic Party in Congress before becoming president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), was bom in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He followed the example of his father, Dr. William Herbert Gray II, who was president of Florida Nor¬ mal and Industrial College (1941-44) and FloridaA&M College (1944-49) and left to become the pastor of the Bright Hope Bap¬ tist Church in Philadelphia,.
Gray grew up with his father’s passion for both religion and education. He graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in 1963 with a B.A, and from Drew Technology Seminaiy in 1966 with a Master of Divinity degree. He received a Master of Theology degree from Princeton in 1970, and succeed¬ ed his father and his grandfather as pastor at the Bright Hope Baptist Church after his father’s death in 1972.
From his beginning at Bright Hope, Gray was a dedicated organizer, building non¬ profit housing corporations, and running for Congress for the first time in 1976. Though he lost to the incumbent, Robert Nix, he ran again in 1978, and was elected to the Sec¬ ond Congressional District for six consecu¬ tive terms, retiring by choice to preside over the UNCF in 1992.-
Gray’s presence in Congress was always influential. In 1985, when he was elected to chair the House Budget Committee, it was because his reputation had led him to dis¬ tinction as a man capable of passing a bud¬ get of trillions of dollars through Congress. Not only did he affect the national budget, but he did so with a special care for pro¬ grams related to education, minimizing poverty and assisting those in need.
Gray was also a member of the Subcom¬ mittee on Foreign Operations, where he was able to author the Anti-Apartheid Acts of 1985 and 1986, both of which demanded that apartheid be abolished in South Africa if US relations were to remain friendly. In 1992, when apartheid was abolished in South Africa and the presidency was won by Nelson Mandella, Gray was one of the men who could take credit for aiding the transition.
In 1989, Gray was elected to the third most powerful position in the Democratic Congress — majority whip. Though he would have been able to affect national pol¬ icy indefinitely, Gray decided to retire from Congress in 1991 to become the CEO of the United Negro College Fund, causing a con¬ siderable shock in Washington and the rest of the nation.
What led Gray to his new career was his unfailing belief in education. Facing a world which he calls “a culture out of con¬ trol,” he took the most meaningful position possible in the struggle toward educational, economic and civil equality. Realizing that African-Americans face difficult challenges in present day America, he put the strength of his name and his reputation behind the thing he had undying faith in — education.