|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 20, 2019 at 1:55 AM|
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.- 2 Corinthians 5:18
We started the day with a visit from Jeannie Graetz, wife of Pastor Robert Graetz. Pastor Graetz was a white pastor in Montgomery during the time of the bus boycotts and relentlessly supported his parishoners. He is too ill to speak to groups anymore at age 90, but Jeannie (a young 89!) cares for him full-time and still speaks to groups quite often.
Pastor Graetz was a “rabble-rouser” in seminary, pushing others to talk about racial relations and when he got sent to Trinity Lutheran in Montgomery, he was told not to start trouble. But, as Jeannie says, “We didn’t start trouble, but we did join it.”
Their neighbor, Rosa Parks, who led an NAACP youth group in the basement of Trinity Lutheran, where Pastor Graetz served. And when she refused to move to the back of the bus, Pastor Graetz went to a mass meeting and became a part of the Montgomery Improvement Association that Dr. King led.
He was the only white leader in the movement and said he was freer to do that since he wasn’t dependent on whites for his salary, since his congregation was African-American. As the one-day planned boycott stretched to over a year, Pastor Graetz drove people and supported the movement. He knew it put him in danger, especially because he was white. And the Klan threatened their children and bombed their home 3 times and the only reason they survived is the last bomb didn’t ignite.
She shared about her continued fight for justice, especially for the LGBTQ Community. And her absolute anger at injustice anywhere. There is a joy about Mrs. Graetz that obviously comes from a life immersed in work that matters and a trust in God above all that she has gone through. She and her husband of 67 years have lived their lives working for reconciliation between peoples and communities every way they know how, following their Jesus who entrusted this ministry of reconciliation to us.
Freedom Rides Museum
After lunch, we were off to the Freedom Rides Museum to hear about college students and young adults who challenged interstate bus segregation. And we heard the story of Irene Morgan who refused to give up her seat on a Greyhound to a white passenger and won her court case against the bus company. And that, even after laws were passed outlawing segregation in transit, Alabama flat out refused to comply.
And we heard about the early Freedom Riders, young people who signed their last will and testaments before getting on those buses, knowing death was possible. After the first Freedom Rides failed to make it to their destination by bus Diane Nash, a Nashville college student, pushed for the rides to continue. (It was really great to hear about some more of the women involved the movement, who aren’t always lifted up as much!)
This ride included ministerial student Jim Zwerg, the only white participant on the second freedom rides. He knew that, because of his race, he would likely receive the worst beating. As he saw the mobs approach him, he said, “Forgive them for what they’re about to do” echoing the words of Jesus from the cross. And that’s what the words and ministry of Jesus are supposed to do. Not turn us into martyrs unless it is needed, but transform our vision enough that that we can walk into places where Jesus needs us with courage for the sake of our brothers and sisters!
It has been heartening to see the names of so many white ministers who have risked harm to be a part of the Civil Rights Movement. These are names to be celebrated and sung. Not at the expense of the African-American leaders, most certainly, but lifted up so that white Christians would learn again what it means to embody Jesus’ call for the sake of others. To remind the community I’m a part of that THIS can be our legacy some day, rather than the discrimination that is a much deeper part of our history as white Christians. Reconciliation of all that is broken in God’s kingdom can be our legacy of working with God to recreate what is.
After this, our students went in different directions to continue the learning in their own way:
Some toured the Alabama State House and saw the statues and murals celebrated in that state. Including the statue (and a mural on the capitol dome) of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. And murals that exclusively celebrate the white part of Alabama culture- from depicting the conquering of Native Americans and seem to caricature African Americans following slavery were joyful to work at backbreaking labor. These murals were completed in 1930, which was a painful time for anyone not considered white in our country, but these murals are still enshrined in the seat of government without comment in their welcome brochure. What we enshrine we continue to normalize and even celebrate.
Southern Poverty Law Center
Some students headed to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial and were reminded of the continuing civil rights struggle- against continuing racial hatred throughout our world, religious discrimination, and anti-LGBTQ discrimination. And at the end we could add our names to the Wall of Tolerance and commit to being foot soldiers in the continuing march against injustice and hatred.
Bayard Rustin LGBTQ Community Center (and thrift store)
Some of our students needing a break from the heaviness of the trip took off to a thrift store and found themselves at an LGBTQ Community Center named after a Civil Rights leader who was asked to step down from public leadership because he was gay and they worried it would discredit the movement. And they met one of Jeanine Graetz’s daughters who was the director. And they learned about a program the center has to show up and be family to others in whatever situations they need when one’s family of origin doesn’t support you or you don’t have family at all. Being who the Church is called to be, but many times doesn’t live up to.
Fountain where slave auctions used to be held
Other students went to a beautiful fountain in the middle of downtown, which was also the former site of slave auctions. To stand in the place where ancestors were sold and to imagine the terror and disgrace they faced was overwhelming. And to see it covered with a fountain was a strange experience, both making something beautiful on the site and perhaps trying to erase the pain experienced by our people in that place.
So many opportunities to think about who we are and who we, as a united community, might become if we take seriously the ministry of reconciliation that is entrusted to us.
Tonight we drove to Atlanta and a made a new church our home for a few days. And we’ll be ready for 2 more days of the trip!