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Wed, 05.16.1928

Robert Graetz, Pastor, and Activist born

Robert Graetz

*Robert Graetz was born this date in 1928.  He was a white-American Lutheran clergyman and activist. 

Robert S. Graetz, of German descent, was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, and educated in Columbus, Ohio.  He graduated from Capital University in Bexley, Ohio, in 1950 and received a B.D. in 1955 from Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbus, Ohio.  He married Jean Ellis in East Springfield, Pennsylvania, on June 10, 1951.  They had seven children together.  The couple arrived in Montgomery in 1955 to become pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, a Black congregation. He began working there in the year of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

A personal friend of Rosa Parks, Graetz became secretary of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization founded to organize and support the boycott. Graetz's support of the movement included appearing at meetings led by Martin Luther King Jr.  For his support of the boycott and against Jim Crow Laws, Graetz and his family were ostracized by other whites and suffered several episodes of harassment, including tire slashing, arrest and bombings.

Bombs were planted at his home on three occasions; the largest did not explode.  Graetz wrote A White Preacher's Memoir: The Montgomery Bus Boycott (Black Belt Press, September 1999. ISBN 1-57966-015-0) about his experiences. The book They Walked to Freedom 1955-1956: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Kenneth M. Hare (Sports Publishing LLC, 2005. ISBN 1-59670-010-6) contains a first-person account of his experiences as well as photographs of Graetz with King and others.  

In 2008, the Graetz’s returned to Montgomery, Alabama, where they are actively involved in various civic activities, including the diversity group One Montgomery and the League of Women Voters. Each year they host the annual Graetz Symposium at the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African American Culture at Alabama State University.   Robert Graetz died on September 20, 2020.

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