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Gray, William H., III

Gray, William H., III

August 20, 1941

Congressman and administrator William Herbert Gray III was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the son of William H. Gray Jr., a minister and president of Florida A&M University, and Hazel Yates, a high school teacher. In 1963 he received a B.A. from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1966 a master of divinity from Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, New Jersey, and a master of theology from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1970. In 1964 he became pastor of Union Baptist Church, in Montclair, New Jersey, where he was active in helping to initiate low-income housing projects. In 1972, as both his father and grandfather before him, he became pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, where he developed a politically active ministry and continued his interest in housing and mortgage issues.

Gray was first elected to Congress from Pennsylvania's Second District as a Democrat in 1978. During his time in Congress, he served on the House Appropriations, Foreign Affairs, and District of Columbia committees. His most important post was chair of the House Budget Committee in 1985, from which he steered the passage of the country's first trillion-dollar budget through controversies and differences between Congress and President Ronald Reagan.

A centrist within the Democratic Party, Gray's primary focus in domestic policy was federal support of black private-sector development. On foreign issues he served as a leading spokesman on U.S. policy toward Africa and was a congressional sponsor of the anti-apartheid movement. Gray sponsored an emergency aid bill for Ethiopia in 1984 and helped secure passage of the Anti-Apartheid acts of 1985 and 1986, overriding presidential vetoes.

Gray's mainstream domestic politics and energetic party politicking helped pave the way for his ascendance to the Democratic leadership. In 1985 he was elected chairman of the Democratic caucus in the House, and in 1989 he became majority whip, the number three leadership position in the House and the highest rank held by an African-American congressman at that time.

In 1991 Gray resigned from Congress to become president of United Negro College Fund (UNCF) in New York City. That year he oversaw the inauguration of the UNCF's Campaign 2000, a drive to raise $250 million by the year 2000. With the support of President George H. W. Bush and a $50 million gift from media magnate Walter Annenberg, the campaign raised $86 million in its first year. In May 1994 Gray was named temporary envoy to Haiti by President Bill Clinton but retained his position at the UNCF.

In 2003, after transforming the UNCF into a powerful philanthropic organization, Gray stepped down as president to spend more time with his family.

See also Politics in the United States; United Negro College Fund


Clay, William L. Just Permanent Interests: Black Americans in Congress, 18701991. New York: Amistad, 1992.

richard newman (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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