MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Reverend Robert Graetz is a civil rights pioneer. During the Montgomery Bus Boycott he was a white minister fighting for the rights of African-Americans, but at 90 years old, he’s waging a different fight. This time to preserve history.
Rev. Graetz suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. The disease has affected his speech, but it hasn’t kept him from his latest mission to preserve history.
He came to Montgomery in 1955 to pastor a Lutheran church that had an all-black congregation, but his calling included much more. Within months of arriving in Montgomery, he was working alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the fight to desegregate Montgomery buses.
“It wasn’t anything that anyone had ever done. It took money, it took a lot of strategy, and we felt the Lord sent us here and that was one of the reasons,” said the reverend’s wife Jeannie Graetz.
His work was criticized by some other whites in the community. In January of 1957, their home was fire-bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. Their friend and neighbor at the time, Rosa Parks and her husband Raymond, were there to help.
“She came over and they wouldn’t let her come in and he said, ‘Come on in brother and sister,’" she said.
Long after the Montgomery Bus Boycott Rosa Parks moved to Detroit, Michigan, but she never forgot what happened that day. 60 years after the bombing they learned Parks had written about the events.
“Wow. It was just like she was telling us....she loved us and she remembered this special time,” Graetz described. “It was very personal.”
They also learned that those personal notes were part of an auction in New York. The Graetz family knew they had to do two things: get them and bring them home.
“It’s where it belongs...it was where it happened,” said Graetz.
And home is where they are headed. Back to the Graetz’s to share with the next generation.
The Graetz family purchased the documents at an auction for $9,375. They were part of a much larger collection that included an unpublished chapter from the autobiography of Malcom X.
The notes written by Parks will be housed at Alabama State University.