RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Loved ones are celebrating the life of Dr. Leroy Bray Jr, a local civil rights activist and pastor who died on October 28.
Bray was one of the Richmond 34, a group of civil rights activists who stood up against racial segregation during a peaceful protest in 1960. His actions helped shape the civil rights movement and pioneered the integration of a Richmond department store.
Family, friends and loved ones said their final goodbyes to Bray at his funeral service at Branch’s Baptist Church on Monday afternoon. His sons described him as a caring and loving man whose legacy will live on forever.
“He always used to tell me ‘Stay in your lane’ so that’s what we’re trying to do today is honor him by staying in our lane,” Eric Bray said.
“He was a gentle giant. Strong in the community. Never boastful about what he did, especially with the Richmond 34,” said Vincent Bray.
Leroy Bray was one of the 34 Virginia Union University students who participated in a peaceful sit-in at Thalhimers Department Store. The students sat down at the lunch counter until the police came.
They were arrested and charged with trespassing in 1960.
“Fight for your rights, because if you don’t have anything else you have your rights,” Eric Bray said.
The Richmond 34 case reached the United States Supreme Court and was ultimately dismissed in 1965.
Bray told 8News in a previous interview that they didn’t know their records weren’t expunged until 2018.
“We grew up in a segregated south,” Bray told 8News in 2019. “We had to ride in the back of the street cars and the buses.”
The group’s historic stand for equality marked a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, helping shape the legislation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Leroy Bray III said his father’s life is a testament to following God’s word. He said some of his favorite sayings were “I love you more” and “God is smiling on me.”
“My daddy preached. He planted a lot of seeds and now we are the harvest,” he said.
This is one of the sentiments Bray shared with many:
“Justice will prevail even though it takes a long time,” he told 8News in 2019.
The Flying Squirrels honored the legacy of the Richmond 34 in 2021, by unveiling an art mural at the Diamond, putting their names on the steps of the concourse and retiring the number 34.
Virginia Union and Virginia State Universities developed a partnership to create mentorship programs in the group’s honor.