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Defiant Graves Fights "System" with Fiery FlairSixty-two years have passed now and the death of Herman Graves, sharecropper, bootlegger and emerging social activist, is as resonant in his son's mind as ever.
His death gave rise to a story, which over the years has been burnished into legend, of a passel of angry white men forcing a German Luger into the hand of a black man and giving him no choice but to pull the trigger and kill his friend.
The story of the father's death has, in turn, fueled in the son an anger so strong it has yet to be tempered. It also has yielded a great distrust, particularly of something he calls the system.
"It was the system that killed my daddy," he says.
So it was that the Rev. Raymond Lee Graves was propelled into a life of the ministry and social activism. And so perhaps it is fitting, if not at least a little symbolic, that the New Bethel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, where he is pastor, stands just outside Rochester's Inner Loop.
For nearly three decades now, Graves has stood defiantly outside the city's downtown boundary and established power structures, hurling angry criticism at targets large and small.
He has attacked the city police department for what he describes as a pattern of harassment and discrimination against minorities. Following the Calvin Green shooting in 1988, he dismissed as a sham the grand jury investigation and state probe that cleared the officer who killed Green, an unarmed black man. The officer was white, and many charged the killing was racially motivated.
Once, he called for the razing of the Hyatt hotel, saying its skeleton was unsafe. Another time he took to the airwaves to warn young black men not to wear watches for fear the glint of the metal would be mistaken by police officers for a weapon.