Pulse: Q&A: Gray’s Goodbye

As he cuts his last ties to Philly, Bill Gray offers some thoughts about race, religion and politics

Even after the Reverend Bill Gray abruptly retired from Congress in 1991 to head the United Negro College Fund, the city’s godfather of African-American politics returned home from the D.C. area every Sunday to take the pulpit at North Philadelphia’s Bright Hope Baptist Church, the congregation he inherited from his father in 1972. This month, the 63-year-old minister, who stepped down from the UNCF last year, retires from the church and takes up permanent residence in Florida and Virginia. He leaves us with some last thoughts on politics and race.

Now that you’re retired, would you consider running for office again?

No way! It’s time for the young people to take over and lead. I am not one of those people who still hear the bell ring and want to go to the fire. I plan to spend the rest of my days making up to my wife and my sons all of the time that I lost in public office and running a national organization. I’m going to spoil my new granddaughter rotten.

You were investigated for corruption when you were a congressman—and no charges were filed. Did you relate to what happened with John Street
in 2003?

I think it’s interesting that every black mayor and every major black politician of the last 50 years has had investigations around corruption. I think that ought to tell us something. If it’s white men getting the contracts, nobody cares, because we know that you must be basically honest. We got a different standard for black folk.

How has politics changed since your day?
I’m increasingly disturbed about the publicizing of religiosity in this country. We’re having these discussions about personal and public piety, and yet we don’t even raise the issue of the 20 million Americans who don’t have health insurance and are dying? Shouldn’t we be discussing that? That’s what my Bible says. I don’t know what some of these folks are reading.