MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Many Alabamians are mourning the loss of a civil rights pioneer as they prepare for her memorial service happening Sunday.
Jean Graetz died on December 16, 2020.
She and her late husband, Reverend Robert Graetz, were activists during the early civil rights era in the state, beginning with Rosa Parks’s Montgomery bus boycott in the 1950s. Parks was Graetz’s friend and neighbor.
Graetz and her husband were one of relatively few and some of the first white people in Alabama who publicly supported equal rights.
Her husband was a minister in a majority-Black Lutheran church in their hometown of Montgomery.
The couple is cited as the only white clergy in the city to endorse and actively engage in the bus boycott.
This caused harassment from local police and the Ku Klux Klan, even leading to their home being bombed twice by the KKK, but that did not stop the couple’s 50 years of activism.
After Graetz and her husband were married, she put her education on hold to be with him through his journey as a minister. Then, in 2015, she went back to school and earned a teaching degree from Alabama State University. She was in her 80’s — the oldest graduate of ASU’s undergraduate program.
For anyone who wants to remember this icon, the family is hosted a memorial service, limited to family members and invited guests to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines.
But for anyone hoping to celebrate Graetz’s life, the family has set up a YouTube channel where they live-streamed the service.
The memorial service lasted over two and a half hours. People from all different races and congregations joined virtually and in-person to not only share memories but to also pay respects to a woman who brought so many together, who they called “mom or grandma.”
Her life was celebrated in photos and words. Many of those who spoke said that the one common denominator between all these memories, was the feeling of love.
Angela Curry, executive director of The United Women of Color, in Huntsville spoke about how allies like Jean and Bob not only inspired togetherness here in Huntsville, but, without them the civil rights movement wouldn’t have been possible.
“It touches my heart in a way that I can’t describe, um, because for someone to sacrifice and put their conveniences and their privileges on the line, for someone else, to me that’s the ultimate act of love thy neighbor as thy self, so it’s just really inspiring,” Curry said.
Curry added that people should look to the legacy and example of Jean, “to gain insight on how to approach issues that people of colors or have other differences, still face today.”