ETOWAH COUNTY, AL (WBRC) -Funeral services will be held Thursday for Larevia Dennis Gray, a longtime Etowah County juvenile probation officer who played a role in Birmingham’s civil rights history.
Gray, 63, died Friday after a long illness.
As an 8-year-old, she took part in the 1963 Children’s March in Birmingham, which is credited with turning the tide of the civil rights movement. The children had intended to walk from Loveman’s Department Store, where she later recalled she was allowed to shop but as a black child, not allowed to use the public restroom or eat at the lunch counter, to the 16th Street Baptist Church.
Police and firefighters descended upon the group when, under orders from Birmingham Police Commissioner “Bull” Conner, police officers sicced police dogs on the children and firefighters turned hoses on them. Gray could actually be seen in news footage shot by a network news videographer, holding onto a tree or utility pole as she was struck by water jets from a firehose.
The footage of that incident was seen nationally and caused outrage.
Gray eventually earned a Bachelors of Science degree in criminal justice at Jacksonville State University.
For forty years, she worked in the juvenile probation offices as a probation officer. Retired Etowah County Juvenile Judge Wayne Owen remembered Gray as "extremely talented, extremely smart, a beautiful person" as she fought to turn around the lives of the juvenile offenders under her watch.
"She knew, with these children that she worked with, she had a heart and a passion for it, so she knew when to kiss their behind to get them to do something and sometimes when to kick it. They knew she was honest, they knew they could rely on what she told them," Owen told WBRC.
Gray’s funeral will be at 6th Ave Baptist Church in Birmingham. She will be laid to rest at Elmwood cemetery afterward. A viewing will be held in the auditorium of Gadsden City High School Wednesday night from 5:30 until 7:30.