SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — In 1955, following the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, the Rev. Robert Graetz became the only white member of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), headed by 26-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Ala. At 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 17, Graetz will share his life experiences as the keynote speaker of the 2005 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Convocation.
This Wittenberg Series-sponsored event will be held in historic, picturesque Weaver Chapel, and it is free and open to the public. For more information about the Wittenberg Series, a university program that brings an array of cultural and intellectual programs to campus annually, contact Gwendolyn Scheffel, Series coordinator, (937) 327-7918.
Unlike many civil rights activists and historians, Graetz has not only researched and written about King’s groundbreaking work, he has experienced it firsthand. He and his young family made personal sacrifices after moving from Ohio to Alabama when he became pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, a black congregation in Montgomery. The Graetz family was thrust into the civil rights movement and made the unpopular decision to openly participate.
For that, their home was frequently bombed, and they were harassed and even arrested. The Graetz family could have moved away, but the boldness of the Graetz family in that uncertain era is a testament to their commitment to freedom, justice and faith in God.
In his book, “A White Preacher’s Memoir: The Montgomery Bus Boycott,” a reviewer wrote that Graetz chronicled the events of the modern civil rights movement in the unassuming style of a country preacher. Most reviewers categorize this book as a “must read” for anyone interested in the early days of the struggle for racial equality.
“Graetz knew Martin Luther King Jr. socially, Ralph Abernathy politically and Rosa Parks spiritually, as a member of his congregation,” a Publisher’s Weekly editorial reviewer wrote. “Graetz often uses the term ‘we’ when writing of the black community’s struggle for human rights, though as a friend reminded him in the 1950s, as a white man he could always walk away.”
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