ALTON - James Gray has had a wonderful spring with a street sign dedication in Alton and his 89th birthday which was celebrated by a large group of people.

Gray was past president of the Alton Branch of the NAACP for more than 25 years and has made a huge difference in Alton for impoverished children.

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Alton Alderwoman Rosetta Brown described Gray as "a legend in our community [who has] contributed so much in the lives of our youth, civil rights, organizations, families and overall to the energy of our community."

Gray is a former member of the Alton Housing Authority Board and a current member of the Madison County Housing Authority Board. He is also a member of the 100 Black Men organization.

James Gray married Vera Boyd in 1952 and they were married for 31 years.

James Gray is the father of seven children with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren along with other family members.

“Jim Gray has been the consummate servant to the people of Alton as the president of the Alton Branch NAACP," Brown said. "Jim has been front and center on many issues over the years. He has been courageous enough to speak out on issues that have had a negative impact on the community."

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Gray said that he’s fought to ensure that African Americans had an equal opportunity to be hired as police officers and firefighters. He often spoke out for fairness for African Americans caught up in the legal system. Gray was instrumental in trying to increase black policemen in the City of Alton.

Some of Gray's accomplishments were being able to persuade the city government to declare Martin Luther King Jr. Day a city paid holiday, establishing the Back to School, Stay in School program, the C-Average scholarship program, the NAACP Christmas School program, and others.

Gray started a Christmas shopping spree program for low-income children, spending $100 per child.

In 1994, Gray established the first headquarters building, using a donated house from Jess Hopkins of First National Bank of Alton. Hopkins and the bank were able to raise over $30,000 to renovate the house and opened the office at 731 Silver St.

Gray has raised more than $4,000 each year to send at least 30 students on a school field trip to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

“He has always had a great concern for the community, especially the children,” Brown concluded.

If you have a Difference Makers idea, e-mail Dan Brannan at

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