SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage 2012

During spring break 2012, students, faculty and staff are taking a nine-day bus ride through the American South to visit civil rights landmarks and leaders in the movement. Political Science Professor Dennis Simon leads the pilgrimage with SMU’s Chaplain’s Office.

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Ordinary people, extraordinary courage

An update from Janelle, who is participating in the pilgrimage with her father, Ed:

Last night, we had the pleasure of meeting Reverend and Mrs. Robert Graetz. As the only white member of the Montgomery Improvement Association, Reverend Graetz attracted quite a bit of attention. Moreover, because of his involvement with the boycott, they were often harassed. But, as a member of the clergy, he was unwavering in his involvement with the road to equality. As for Mrs. Graetz, she said it was a “circle of love” that protected them. And no threat, hatred or negative wish could penetrate that.

When asked about raising his family during this time in Montgomery, Mrs. Graetz didn’t hesitate to chime in saying, “We raised our kids black.” They were so immersed in the community and devoted to advancement that he was the pastor of a black congregation. She also said they went to black theatres because they refused to sit in the white section and segregation laws prohibited them sitting in the black section.

It’s no surprise that this involvement made them a target along with “agitators” or “troublemakers” in the black community. Their home was bombed on three occasions. They spoke of the night it was bombed after the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

That night, four churches and two homes were bombed. Their home was to be the first home attacked. Upon investigation, they found this bomb had 11 sticks of dynamite, two fuses and TNT. That bomb was meant to destroy the entire neighborhood. The first bomb did not go off and the offenders returned to the Graetzes’ home with a second, less deadly bomb. Although this bomb did explode, it rolled right over the first bomb without detonating it. Mrs. Graetz’s “circle of love” was evident in God’s divine protection.

Reverend Graetz said when that bomb went off, Mrs. Graetz sat up in bed and calmly said, “My word. Another bomb?” I’m in awe of the steadfast dedication, unshakable faith and sheer bravery it took to endure night after night and day after day the danger that was heaped upon them with the hopes of deterring their efforts.

This morning we went to the Rosa Parks Museum. The tour guide told us the story of the boycott and I smiled to myself as I realized, we already knew this. Not because we studied it but because we had an opportunity to hear it from someone who was there in the thick of it. We heard for someone who stood in the gap for us. How beautiful is that?

We then stopped by Tuskegee and met with Mr. Fred Gray, often called the attorney of the movement. Mr. Gray was the legal representation for Dr. King and Rosa Parks, among other things. Each face of the movement has challenged us to live to the full extent of our power. To use our voice. He said Claudette Colvin was his first case. She refused to give up her seat on the bus before Mrs. Parks. She’s a name often overshadowed by Mrs. Parks. But the reality is, without her arrest, Mrs. Parks may not have encountered the weariness and found the courage to take the action that would later give her the name “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

We also had an opportunity to hear from Stephen Black, grandson of Justice Hugo Black, whose vote in Brown vs. Board of Education ended with the Blacks’ move out of state. There was so much backlash that there was actually a law passed that Hugo Black could not be buried in Alabama.

After their involvement in the movement, you could accept if the Graetzes were to quietly retire somewhere and enjoy their seven children and 26 grandchildren, or if Mr. Black were to live his life out of state. But they didn’t. Black asked if the status quo is good enough. And even though they have far exceeded what was requested of them, the Graetzes answer the question with a deafening no.

They continue to be active in civil rights and humanity issues. When asked what her family’s views are, Mrs. Graetz said several of her 26 grandchildren were biracial. “When my son was younger, he came home saying, ‘Mom, I really hate white people.’” They just didn’t know anything different, proving the teachings of love and acceptance are just as powerful as the teachings of hate prejudice.

Mr. Black said there’s a difference between charity and justice. For a time, although I know their definitive value, I have linked them synonymously. But with this food for thought, I determined that doing charity work is often finite action whereas seeking justice is the ongoing journey. Like Joanne Bland, he pointed out we as educated people are privileged and with that privilege comes certain moral obligations.

I choose to participate in both. I choose to be charitable on my road to seek out justice. I will give of myself, not just money. Before this trip I think I had a decent sense of who I was and I what I wanted to do to impact the world. But now, I feel a sense of duty and urgency to make things happen. Ordinary people changed the nation with extraordinary courage.

To affect change, sometimes we must have the courage to stand alone. But with faith, I will never have to stand alone.

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