Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep:
In the end, the only life insurance company to persist was Independent. Although the four policies it held were among the smallest the Reverend had taken out on Dorcas, the company’s lawyer, Harry Raymon, would not stop fighting payment. Tom Radney responded by bringing in help, in the form of a colleague in Tuskegee by the name of Fred Gray. Gray was not an insurance specialist; he was one of the most prominent civil rights attorneys in the nation. He had gotten his law degree from Case Western Reserve University, in Ohio, before any Alabama law school would admit African American students, then returned home to use it in the fight for racial justice. Gray represented Rosa Parks after she refused to surrender her seat on a segregated bus, and then represented the Montgomery Improvement Association during the resulting boycott. He won an acquittal from an all-white jury for Martin Luther King Jr. after he was charged with tax evasion, took on Governor Wallace when he tried to block the march from Selma to Montgomery, and got a ten-million-dollar settlement from the federal government on behalf of the surviving victims of the Tuskegee experiment. In addition to his legal practice, Fred Gray served in the Alabama House of Representatives, one of the first black legislators since Reconstruction.
It was through his legislative work that Gray had come to know Tom Radney, but taking on the Maxwell case was more than doing a favor for a friend; it was an opportunity to mount a legal challenge to another form of discrimination. Racial bias was ubiquitous in the insurance industry. African American policyholders were routinely required to pay more money for less valuable coverage, refused consolidation offers for discounts on multiple policies, forced to pay premiums exceeding the value of the payout, and denied benefits based on capricious claims of lapsed coverage. Some companies maintained dual rates for white and black clients, based on separate mortality tables that were used to justify charging nonwhites more than whites for the same policies; others maintained dual plans, using one mortuality table but offering two levels of insurance, and paying agents the full commission only when minority clients bought substandard policies. Some companies simply refused to insure black lives at all.