Robert S. Graetz was a white, Lutheran minister working in the Watts community of Los Angeles in 1955 when he was asked to willingly transfer to the south. Knowing of his success in the black community and considering the racial tensions in the south, the Synod needed someone who was willing to live and work in the black community. Bob Graetz and his wife, Jeannie, were happy to accept the assignment, and they arrived in Montgomery, Alabama in the summer of 1955, just weeks before the murder of Emmett Till.
They moved into the parsonage of Trinity Lutheran Church on Cleveland Avenue, across the street from a young seamstress named Rosa Parks. The Montgomery Bus Boycott began just 6 months later, and Rev. Graetz became the only white leader of the boycott. He worked side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and the other leaders and spent his days driving his black neighbors to and from their jobs, just like the black men in the community. The famous photo on the cover of Life Magazine that showed the cars lined up ready to transport people to work was taken in the backyard of the Graetz parsonage. The Graetzes’ vocal and active support of the black community and, equally important, the black community’s embrace of Bob and Jeannie, ostracized them from the mainstream white southerners and were the reasons the KKK bombed their home—3 times.
Bob and Jean Graetz were people of great faith, and they lived that faith daily, in word and deed, spending their entire lives advocating for black, poor, and minority communities. Bob left this earthly realm on Sunday, September 20, 2020. His devoted wife, Jean, joined him in eternity less than three months later.
The purpose of the Graetz Foundation, which was founded by Bob and Jeannie, is to honor their legacy, continue the work they devoted their lives to, and help build their vision of Dr. King's “Beloved Community.”
The mission of the Robert S. and Jean E. Graetz Foundation is to help fulfill Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “dream,” that he called “The Beloved Community,” a society in which all people respect and accept each other with love, regardless of the differences that sometimes divide us, and in which we strive for freedom and justice for all people and stand boldly against oppression in all its forms.
To accomplish this mission, the Foundation will hold the Annual Robert S. and Jean E. Graetz Symposium on Human Rights and Reconciliation in partnership with the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at Alabama State University. The Foundation will also support The Jeannie Graetz Literacy Program addressing youth literacy issues, particularly in public education as well as supporting other educational and advocacy programs. The Foundation will also seek to preserve and make available to others the history and heritage of long-time civil and human rights activists, including Robert S. and Jean E. Graetz.