Memorial service held for civil rights icon Rev. Robert Graetz
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A memorial service for the late Rev. Robert S. Graetz, Jr. was held inside of Montgomery’s historic First Baptist Brick-a-Day Church Sunday.
Only family members and memorial speakers were allowed to attend due to the family’s desire not to spread the COVID-19 virus. The ceremony was streamed live for those who were not able to attend.
Rev. Graetz is remembered as a civil rights icon and acclaimed human rights advocate. He died on Sept. 21 at the age of 92. His larger-than-life persona will be remembered across the world.
“He really left an impression on everybody that knew him,” said Rev. Graetz’s eldest child, Meta Ellis. “He will be deeply missed by all of us.”
Rev. Graetz was a key supporter of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a landmark event of the Civil Rights Movement.
“He was a pastor of a Lutheran Church here in town, Trinity Lutheran Church, it was called at the time,” said son David Graetz. “He was the only white pastor who, at least publicly spoke out, and worked, during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.”
His role in the boycott included driving African Americans to work or shopping for several hours each day. He was also the secretary of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization founded to organize and support the boycott, and appeared at meetings led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“He provided an opportunity for me not only to ride at the front of a bus, but also to live a prosperous life without anyone deterring me because of the color of my skin,” said Alabama State University President Quintin Ross. “So we are just so happy to be able to honor him.”
“He will surely be missed,” said Alabama State University Archivist Dr. Howard Robinson. “He was an incredible force. When so few voices in Montgomery, so few white voices in Montgomery stood up, he stood tall.”
Because of his involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott his family faced harsh ridicule.
“His house was bombed as a result of his advocacy,” Robinson said. “His family was threatened and so he had to stand in the face of significant opposition to stand for what he thought was right and what eventually was proven to be the right direction for this nation.”
Rev. Graetz’s life’s work focused on reconciliation and a vision that he and his wife shared with Dr. King, a vision of a beloved community.
“It was just something that he stood for and lived for,” Gratez said. “And up to his last breath that’s what he was about.”
The First Baptist Brick-A-Day church, where the service took place, was associated with the Montgomery Bus Boycott’s meetings as well as the Freedom Rides in May of 1961.
Family members said they will plan a public celebration of Graetz’s life after the pandemic has subsided and asked that instead of flowers, donations be made to either of two non-profits:
- The Graetz Foundation, 1558 Dunbar St., Montgomery, AL 36106
- The Alabama State University Foundation’s fund for The National Center for the Study of Civil Rights & African-American Culture, which may be reached electronically at www.alasu.edu/giving or mailed to The Alabama State University Foundation, P.O. Box 1046, Montgomery, AL 36101.
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