The White Preacher
WHEN TOMMY JOE LONG was talking about the white preacher, he was referring to the Reverend Robert S. Graetz. One of the least understood of all the strong supporters of the boycott, Graetz, a short, slender minister of an all-black church, first heard about Rosa Parks's arrest from her the morning after she was taken to jail.
Graetz was a native of Charleston, West Virginia, where, as one letter writer to the Advertiser pointed out, the radical abolitionist John Brown was hanged, and where, the same pundit suggested, the residents should do the same with Graetz. Of German heritage, he had attended all-white public schools— the only blacks he knew personally were the janitors.
But in his junior year at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, while doing research for a paper on discrimination against Jews in higher education, he discovered that black people had been almost completely excluded from many U.S. institutions of higher education. "That revelation altered my life and my ministry forever," he recalls. He switched his major to social science, started a race relations club, and joined the