One of King's Early Allies Still Fights for 'Beloved Community'
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The social revolution led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was forged in and grew out of the black church. But from the earliest days of the movement, there were also white foot soldiers.
King initially came to national prominence leading the bus boycott in Montgomery, where he was serving his first job as a local pastor.
Working closely with him was a young white pastor, the Rev. Robert Graetz.
"We were here because God brought us here," Graetz told the PBS program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. "And in a very real sense this changed the character of the movement because it was not totally black then from that point on."
Graetz, now 82, still works with his wife in Montgomery for civil rights, reconciliation and a vision that began more than 50 years ago -- a vision they shared with King called "the beloved community."
"We are all different, but we are still all together in this one relationship," Graetz said, "and the key to that kind of relationship was respect."
Graetz grew up in an all-white Lutheran community in West Virginia.
As a college student in Ohio, he experienced what he called his "race relations awakening." He and his wife Jean got involved in ministries in black communities, and when he finished seminary, Lutheran officials asked him to pastor an all-black congregation in Montgomery.
"We had very few black pastors because we required seminary training for all pastors," Graetz said. "That's why they needed some white pastors like me to serve in largely black congregations."
The young family arrived in Montgomery in 1955 and began their work at Trinity Lutheran Church. One of the first people they met was a neighbor named Rosa Parks, an adult adviser to an NAACP youth group that met at their church.
Graetz was also introduced to another new pastor in town, King, who had arrived the year before.
"I decided," Graetz said laughing, "that anybody who sounded as smart as he was, and was as articulate as he was, and had the name Martin Luther, I had to get to know him better."
He also came to know the struggles of his congregation because of legalized segregation, including on the city bus system. Several local activists had been talking about a boycott, and when Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man, the stage was set for a showdown.