- NAME: Robert Graetz
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Pastor
- BIRTH DATE: May 16, 1928 (Age: 85)
- EDUCATION: Capital University, Trinity Lutheran Seminary
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Clarksburg, West Virginia
- Full Name: Robert S. Graetz Jr.
- AKA: Robert Graetz
- AKA: Robert S. Graetz
- AKA: Robert Graetz Jr.
- ZODIAC SIGN: Taurus
Best Known For
Robert Graetz is a civil rights activist who ministered to an African-American congregation during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Montgomery Bus Boycott (3:51)
Reverend Robert Graetz was pastor of an all-black congregation at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and a prominent civil rights activist who played a major role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Reverend Robert Graetz, the white pastor of an all-black church in Montgomery, Alabama, became a target of racial hatred because of his civil rights activism, including the bombing of his house on two separate occasions.
For 382 days, almost the entire African-American population of Montgomery, Alabama, including leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, refused to ride on segregated buses, a turning point in the American civil rights movement.
At an early age, Rosa Parks faced injustice wherever she went and decided that by taking action she could change the world around her.
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Born on May 16, 1928, in Clarksburg, West Virginia, Robert Graetz became a pastor who served the African-American congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Alabama. With the advent of the historical citywide bus boycotts, Graetz supported his congregants and engaged in activism himself despite threats to him and his family. He's continued his human rights work and penned a memoir.
"The heart of it all is respect. Dr. King's dream was that of a beloved community. There will always be differences in faith, ethnicity, level of physical abilities, sexual orientation, race and culture, but we can rejoice in differences."
"We are all different, but we are still all together in this one relationship, and the key to that kind of a relationship was respect, which means I look at you and I say, you know, 'I know that you have value. God put value in you.'"
"In effect, the church in the black community was reinterpreting what the Bible said about how human beings ought to treat one another, so that it was the black Christians teaching white Christians what it meant to be Christian."
"People either loved us or hated us. Few showed indifference. People often said we had courage. There were times when I was scared to death."
"The feeling among the people across the community was that we were doing something that was changing the world."
"Once the boycott started here, it spread to other cities. It encouraged people to get involved in other ways in dealing with other aspects of segregation and discrimination."
Robert S. Graetz Jr. was born on May 16, 1928, in Clarksburg, West Virginia. His German grandfather was an ardent Lutheran who, upon seeing that his own son had chosen a career in chemical engineering, prepped his grandson for a life in the ministry. Graetz went on to attend Capital University in Ohio, focusing on pre-theological studies, and later graduated from Trinity Lutheran Seminary. He also served as a student pastor at Los Angeles' Community Lutheran Church.
Graetz married his wife, Jeannie, in 1951, with the couple remaining together for decades and going on to have seven children.
Upon his graduation from Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Robert Graetz was asked by church officials to become pastor at the predominantly African-American Trinity Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Thus Graetz was the white minister of a black congregation in 1955, during the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He decided that the right thing to do was to actively and openly support congregants and the cause for which they mobilized.
The protest was started by the African-American community after Rosa Parks, a neighbor of Graetz's, chose not to give up her seat to white passengers on a bus, for which she was arrested. After coordination with civil rights activist E.D. Nixon of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the boycott was initiated on the day of Parks's trial—December 5, 1955—and lasted until December 20 of the following year.
The boycott was led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a young pastor who worked in conjunction with fellow minister Ralph D. Abernathy to form the Montgomery Improvement Association, with Graetz joining its executive committee.
With a high degree of volunteer coordination needed to make the protest successful, Graetz also helped by providing car transportation to protesters when he could, coming to believe in King's concept of a "beloved community."
Yet he, Jeannie and their children were targeted by the Ku Klux Klan for his involvement in African-American civil rights, with his car booby-trapped and his church residence bombed multiple times. (It is believed that one bomb, which didn't go off, would have killed the Graetz family and leveled much of the block.) Graetz at one point felt that he would not live to see through the attacks, yet he and his wife got through via prayer, song and support from their church community.
The boycott ended successfully with the integration of Montgomery's bus lines, and Graetz continued his pastoring duties and civil rights work.
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"Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." Stated by legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., these words represent a basic human philosophy to which black history's greatest leaders have passionately subscribed. Learn more about the world's most revered civil rights activists, known for their fight against social injustices and lasting impact on the lives of black citizens, including Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Marva Collins, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
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