PBS’s Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly television show will profile Reverend Robert Graetz, author of A White Preacher’s Message on Race and Reconciliation, published by NewSouth Books, in an episode that begins airing Sunday, January 16.
Rev. Graetz was the only white minister of an African American church during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. His church and home were both bombed during the boycott, and the lives of he and his wife Jeanie were threatened, but Graetz never wavered in his support of the black community. He describes his experiences in rich detail in his memoir, which the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith newsletter called “extraordinary.”
The Religion & Ethics episode emphasizes Rev. Graetz’s relationship with Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement. In the interview with correspondent Kim Lawton, Graetz talks about meeting their neighbor Rosa Parks, and also Dr. King. “I decided that anybody who sounded as smart as he was and was articulate as he was, and had the name Martin Luther, I had to get to know him better,” Graetz recalls.
Rev. Graetz remembers that church officials had expressly told him not participate in any “trouble” when they sent him to Montgomery, but after much prayer he decided the only way he could be a pastor to his church was to take part in the civil right movement. “I want you all to stay off the buses,” Graetz told his congregation. “Iâ€™ll be out in my car all day long. If you need a ride, Iâ€™ll be glad to come and take you wherever you need to go.” He became the only white member of the Montgomery Improvement Association overseeing the Montgomery Bus Boycott, alongside Dr. King and Rev. Ralph Albernathy.
In the interview, Dr. Howard Robinson, archivist for the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African American Culture at Alabama State University, says that “the Graetzs were really like one of the very few white people in Montgomery who took a very overt, obvious position in support of the boycott, and they suffered because of it,” referring to the bombing of their house recounted in Rev. Graetz’s memoir.
Lawton notes that the Graetzs have remained active in social justice causes, including their current work consulting at Alabama State’s Civil Rights Center.
Rev. Graetz tells Lawton that while “people will say to us, ‘We really appreciate what you did,’ … our response always is it wasnâ€™t just us. It was 50,000 black people who stood together, who walked together, who worked together, who stood up against oppression. If it had not been for this whole body of people working together, this would not have happened.”
A White Preacher’s Message on Race and Reconciliation: Based on His Experiences Beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite local or online bookstore.