White Civil Rights Advocate Jean Graetz Died At 90

Jean Graetz, one of the few whites who participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the city’s civil rights movement, died at her home last Wednesday at the age of 90.

Graetz’s family friend Kenneth Mullinax told reporters that lung cancer was the cause. Jean’s death comes approximately three months after the death of her husband, Rev. Robert Graetz, who teamed up with his wife in their struggle for civil rights.

“Bob and Jeannie were just one of those couples, like Romeo and Juliet,” Mullinax told the New York Times. “You couldn’t survive without the other.”

The couple moved to Montgomery in 1955, where Robert, who was educated in Ohio, was assigned to a black church. While Robert was preaching, Jean organized events and developed relationships with civil rights groups and individuals in the ward.

The two were also good friends with Rosa Parks, one of their neighbors. Parks used a room in the church where Robert was preaching to hold meetings for the local NAACP chapter. The couple also played a big role in the boycott. After Parks was arrested for refusing to leave her seat, Jean was among the women who began the year-long bus boycott that Dr. Martin Luther King should move into the national spotlight.

Throughout the years of effort, Robert preached equality and civil rights from the pulpit, while Jean assisted with organizational efforts, including lunches, childcare assistance, and coordinating media appearances between civil rights leaders and the media.

The couple faced significant backlash for supporting the civil rights movement. They received death threats in phone calls and letters, and according to the Times, the couple’s home was hit with small bombs twice, including once while she and her son were sleeping inside. A third larger bomb was also placed in their residence, but luckily it did not go off.

None of the incidents prevented the couple from continuing to support the civil rights claim. The couple were also involved in the final leg of the 1965 Selma-Washington DC march.

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