Spurgeon Nathaniel Gray, a pioneering Black pharmacist whose career spanned almost sixty years, was born on May 10, 1877, in Lawrence, Kansas, to Gabriel and Caroline Gray. His father, a Baptist minister who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, died in 1882. He married Fannie Charlton of Beaumont, Texas, in 1903, and the couple had four daughters. In 1924 his wife was fatally injured in an automobile accident, and Gray never remarried.
An 1897 graduate of the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy, Gray practiced pharmacy in Kansas, Washington, D.C., and Louisiana before opening the first Black-owned pharmacy in Southeast Texas—Gray’s Pharmacy in Beaumont in 1903. Over his long career he also opened pharmacies in Liberty and Port Arthur. Gray served as an important health provider for Blacks throughout Southeast Texas during the first half of the twentieth century. His customers, largely denied access to White hospitals and clinics, often depended on Gray’s Pharmacy to meet their multiple healthcare needs. Gray’s professional life was dedicated to serving his customers. “There is a human side to every prescription,” Gray noted in a 1940s speech. “My files are filled (with) many human stories when I choose to read between the lines.” Active professionally in providing for the medical needs of the larger community, Dr. Gray was instrumental in organizing the area’s Black medical professionals; establishing the Southeast Texas Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association; and opening a medical facility, the Bonwell Community Center, to meet the needs of the Black community of Beaumont.
Gray was an early champion of Texas Southern University and its School of Pharmacy, supporting the school financially and professionally throughout its early years. Gray retired in 1956 and died on January 14, 1960, at the age of eighty-four. He was buried in Beaumont’s Anthony Cemetery. Three years later, in the fall of 1964 the pharmacy building at Texas Southern University was officially designated the Spurgeon N. Gray Hall.