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Robert Graetz (1928–2020), minister who helped organize Montgomery bus boycott

by Linnea Crowther

Rev. Robert Graetz was a Lutheran minister and civil rights activist who was among the residents of Montgomery, Alabama who organized a historic bus boycott.

Joining the fight for civil rights

Graetz was a young minister, relatively new to Montgomery, when Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005) was arrested in 1955 for refusing to yield her seat on a bus to a white passenger. As civil rights activists began spreading the word about a plan for Black residents to boycott the city bus in protest, Graetz encouraged his congregation at the majority-Black Trinity Lutheran Church to join the boycott. He offered rides to work to anyone who needed them. As the boycott – originally intended to be for a single day – continued for months, Graetz gave rides to as many as 50 people each day. For those he couldn’t drive, Graetz helped organize car pools and fundraise for transportation expenses. He stood at the Montgomery courthouse alongside his friend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968), wearing a cross that read “Father, Forgive Them.” Graetz’s public support of the bus boycott was rare among white southerners, and he was the only white minister in Montgomery to risk violence and condemnation by making a public stand in support of the boycott. In response to Graetz’s work with the bus boycott, detractors bombed his home twice, as well as threatening his young children, slashing his tires, and pouring sugar in his gas tank.

Graetz on courage in the Civil Rights Movement

“I have always contended that the absence of fear is not the point. What you do when you are afraid is what makes the difference. We often had good reason to be afraid.” —from his 2006 memoir, “A White Preacher’s Message on Race and Reconciliation: Based on His Experiences Beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott”

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Tributes to Robert Graetz

Full obituary: Montgomery Advertiser

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