White Pastor Who Supported Rosa Parks' Bus Boycott Dies Robert and his wife Jeannie Graetz faced bombs and KKK death threats for their role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but their Black friends and neighbors protected them.
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Robert Graetz, Only White Pastor To Back Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dies At 92

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Robert Graetz, Only White Pastor To Back Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dies At 92

Robert Graetz, Only White Pastor To Back Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dies At 92

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A man who helped chauffeur people to work during the Montgomery bus boycott has died. Pastor Robert Graetz was the only white minister in Montgomery, Ala., to support that boycott, made famous by Rosa Parks. Graetz died Sunday. As NPR's Tom Gjelten reports, his support for racial justice made him a target of Ku Klux Klan violence.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: In 1955, Robert Graetz, then a Lutheran pastor in Ohio, was sent to Montgomery to lead a Black Lutheran congregation there. At the time, the Lutheran Church was short on Black clergy. He arrived in Montgomery just a few months before Rosa Parks and other Black leaders launched a bus boycott there to protest racial segregation.

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JEANNIE GRAETZ: He had to promise that he would not start trouble. Well, he didn't start the trouble. He just joined the trouble.

GJELTEN: That's his wife Jeannie. Graetz encouraged his Black congregants to join the bus boycott, and he promised to help them. Over the next year, he spent three hours each morning driving people to work in his own car so they could avoid the buses. In Alabama, that was enough to make him a target of racists. Twice, the Graetzes' house was bombed.

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J GRAETZ: You hear this loud noise, and you know it was another bomb - glass and plaster just all over.

GJELTEN: A third bomb much larger than the first two was thrown at the house but did not detonate. Such was the violence facing anyone in those days who challenged the system of white supremacy. The Graetzes faced constant death threats, even against their preschool children. But they stayed. Speaking to NPR last year, Jeannie Graetz said they were protected by their African American friends and neighbors.

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J GRAETZ: We felt that the Lord had put a circle of love around us because there were people that hated us, and that hate could not get through to us because of a large protection.

GJELTEN: In his final years, Robert Graetz was too ill to speak. His wife shared their story at his bedside. But back in 2015, Graetz spoke at an event organized by NPR and member station WVAS. He shared his view as a pastor of the racial justice movement.

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ROBERT GRAETZ: It was the people of God putting into practice their understanding of what God meant for their lives to be like. And in Montgomery, it was Black Christians teaching white Christians how to be Christian.

GJELTEN: Graetz died at home in Montgomery at the age of 92. His wife Jeannie survives him.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

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