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The Honorable William H. Gray III represented Pennsylvania’s second Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1979 and 1991. He rose to leadership as Chair of the House Budget Committee, and was then elected House Majority Whip, the third highest ranking position in the House. To date, he remains the highest ranking African American from Pennsylvania in the U.S. Congress. Congressman Gray was a political leader, international statesman and pastor who was deeply committed to civil rights and social justice around the globe.







Congressman William Gray gets elected to represent Philadelphia in the United States House of Representatives. Gray defeated Robert Nix, who had held the seat since 1963, 58 percent to 41 percent.


In the 1980s, when racial tensions were high between African American and Jewish communities, Operation Understanding is launched in Philadelphia by George M. Ross with Gray as a key initial partner. The program played a crucial role in engaging high school students in a cross-cultural exchange aimed at finding common ground and rekindling the alliance between the two communities. Through the efforts of the program, advances were made in enhancing racial tolerance and cultivating a deeper appreciation of differing cultures.


In 1983, a significant milestone was reached when President Ronald Reagan signed the bill establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday. That same year, the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission was formed with the mission of celebrating Dr. King’s legacy and encouraging the observance of the holiday. Gray became one of the first commissioners in 1983 alongside Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King.



Gray holds the distinction of being not only the highest-ranking member of the Pennsylvania delegation to ever serve in Congress but also a trailblazer in congressional leadership. In 1989, he became the Democratic Caucus and the Democratic Party Whip, making him the first African American to be elected House Majority Whip. He remained the highest ranking African American democratic party leader until Hakeem Jeffries became Minority Leader of the U.S House of Representatives in 2023.


Gray leads the Congressional Black Caucus Task Force overseeing vital democracy missions to Haiti, alongside Rep. Major R. Owens, Rep. Maxine Waters, and Rep. Kweisi Mfume. In a testament to his capabilities, President Bill Clinton appointed Gray to the position of Special Advisor, entrusting him with the responsibility of advising both the President and the Secretary of State on matters pertaining to the Haitian civil war. In this role, Gray played a significant part in offering counsel to the President on addressing the civil unrest and navigating a course towards democracy in Haiti.


Gray secured a substantial $1.6 billion grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, leading to the establishment of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. This partnership resulted in a 20-year initiative that would provide financial assistance to 1,000 high achieving minority students per year.


Gray died on July 1, 2013, while attending the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament in London.


The William H. Gray III Memorial Foundation was established with the mission of carrying forward Gray’s legacy, dedicated to continuing his mission of inspiring civic engagement and advancing social justice.

1979 - 1991

While serving in Congress, Gray emerges as an influential coalition builder and progressive policy champion during a crucial era for civil rights. Gray’s contributions were substantial, as he secured positions on multiple committees and achieved the distinction of being the first African American to chair the House Budget Committee (1985-1989) and serve as Majority Whip (1989-1991).



In a defining moment in history, Gray became the first African American Chairman of the House Budget Committee. This Committee is responsible for developing the yearly budget and reviewing all legislation presented before the House of Representatives. In the context of the 99th Congress, a mere 21 African Americans served in the House, underscoring the significance of Gray’s appointment.


Congress imposes broad sanctions on South Africa's apartheid government, marking a policy turning point through the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. Gray’s introduction of the H.R. 1460 bill in the previous year played a pivotal role as a foundational precursor to the Act. With 156 cosponsors, the bill earned approval from committees including, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the African Subcommittee, laying the groundwork for the legislation. The was vetoed by President Reagan and overridden with the help of Republican Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), then chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.

1991 - 2004

Gray resigns from the House in 1991 to further his commitment to advancing education within the black community. He assumed the role as the 8th President of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) from 1991-2004. UNCF acts as a voice for students and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in their engagements with Congress and federal agencies, advocating for financial aid and education policy. Under his leadership, UNCF saw a substantial fundraising increase, and UNCF-member college experienced a 28% rise in enrollment since 1986.


In 1997, Gray received the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedom Award for the Freedom of Worship. Gray was an outward proponent of freedom of religion. Prior to his tenure in Congress, he served as the Pastor at the Philadelphia’s Bright Hope Baptist Church where the congregation expanded to over 4,000 members.


President Barack Obama signed U.S. House resolution 4838 directing Amtrak to rename Philadelphia's 30th Street Station to William H. Gray III 30th Street Station.



Gray valued finding common ground and was known as a leader that could get things done and used that approach to successfully champion the advancement of Philadelphia.

Today, people are concerned that policy makers are so entrenched in their politics that they won’t be able help everyday people from communities like theirs. Gray was a staunch advocate for bipartisanship. His legacy sets an example for what the next generation can achieve by finding common ground.


Gray was a champion for access to education for all.

While progress has been made, today’s youth are still fighting for equity and accessibility to education. Education topics that today’s youth have found common ground on and our advocating for include health and wellness, more inclusive curriculums, freedom to think critically. Gray’s commitment to education through his work with UNCF demonstrates his shared value in ensuring access to education is equitable in our country.


Gray was one of the driving forces for social justice in the United States and abroad.  

Today, people are seeking justice in many areas: religious and interfaith dialogue, justice for marginalized communities, and more. Gray’s leadership as a pastor and as an anti-apartheid advocate for South Africa provide examples of how the next generation can address injustices.

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