By Jannell McGrew
When asked about what the boycott meant to the world, The Rev. Robert Graetz jokes: “Do I have an hour?”
It’s just so much to tell, so much to share with others. The struggle. The joy and the pain.
“The bus boycott, you have to remember, was the beginning of the modern civil rights movement,” he said. “Once the boycott started here, it spread to other cities. It encouraged people to get involved in other ways in dealing with other aspects of segregation and discrimination.”
He can’t help but get emotional when he thinks about all he and his family endured being among a small number of white supporters of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Graetz’s voice breaks a little every time he speaks about his experiences. He spoke about the attempts made on his life for being a white preacher trying to help black people get rid of Jim Crow laws.
His family shared in those experiences. They were ostracized by the white community, he said. Their car tires were slashed. Their home was bombed three times.
Only two of the bombs went off.
“The one that did not go off had 11 sticks of dynamite and a container of TNT, so it would have killed all of us and probably a number of our neighbors,” Graetz said. “The Lord didn’t let that one go off.”
Vandals put sugar in their car tanks to keep them from helping bus boycotters get to work.
“People either loved us or hated us. Few showed indifference,” Graetz said almost five decades later in recalling the tragedies of the time. “People often said we had courage. There were times when I was scared to death.”
Always by his side is his wife, Jeannie. She sits listening to her husband, often nodding her head in agreement. Her eyes, too, begin to well up with tears.
“We felt that the Lord would take care of us through it all,” she said. “After the second bombing, when we were in the house, I didn’t believe that the Lord was going to let that happen. So I had to start all over in my knowing that he was going to take care of us.”
Graetz never shies away from speaking about his often perilous civil rights journey alongside pioneers such as Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy and Rosa Parks. His book, “A White Preacher’s Memoir,” chronicles in startling detail the Montgomery Bus Boycott and his role.
The Lutheran minister led an all-black congregation – Trinity Lutheran Church – during the days of the movement.
Like King, he preached integration from the pulpit and told followers to trust in God and boycott segregated city buses in 1955.
“This was a movement of the church, the Christian church in the black community,” he has described it on many occasions.
And the power of faith and love helped break down the walls of segregation in Montgomery.
“Once we had made that commitment, then it was easy to keep on going,” he said. “The first step was making that commitment, and we had to know that God was going to take care of us. Even if we did die, it was all in Gods hands.”