Project Pilgrimage cohorts met with Robert Graetz three separate times and he always left us in awe. Known for his support of the Montgomery bus boycott, Mr. Graetz passed away Sunday at the age of 92.
“I have always contended that the absence of fear is not the point,” Mr. Graetz wrote in “A White Preacher’s Message on Race and Reconciliation: Based on His Experiences Beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” a memoir published in 2006. “What you do when you are afraid is what makes the difference. We often had good reason to be afraid.”
Mr. Graetz seemed to toggle seamlessly between foot soldier and field general in civil rights and social justice causes for roughly seven decades. He was the only white board member of the Montgomery Improvement Association, a group that formed in the days following Rosa Parks’ arrests, to oversee the boycott.
Mr. Graetz and his wife, Jeannie, elected to aid the boycott, in part to remain effective in their new church. The pastor used his Sunday sermon to urge parishioners to avoid Montgomery’s buses on Monday and offered rides to work. As a result of his involvement, Graetz’s home was bombed several times and he was harassed by white residents.
When we consider the loss of giants like C.T. Vivian and John Lewis this year as well as Pilgrimage friends Dr. Reavis Mitchell and Theresa Burroughs, the loss of Mr. Graetz is a reminder that our time with this generation is slipping away. We must act on that good fear. It is up to us to heed the lessons they taught us while we were on the bus and carry on their legacy, together.