By 1960, Billy Graham had become a prominent evangelist. Thousands were drawn to his crusades. Presidents and celebrities were drawn to him in friendship. Yet, he was a southern evangelist. At the time, churches in the South were all white or all black. No in-between. Eleven o’clock Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America.
When Graham held meetings in the North, the crowds were a mix of people from all races and nationalities. He knew God’s message of love and forgiveness was for all people.
But in the South, there was no such harmony among the races. There were no revivals in Alabama, Mississippi, or South Carolina that included every race and color. For an evangelist to push for such inclusiveness would jeopardize the support and money he received to set up those crusades.
Fortunately, Billy Graham was a godly man who loved and honored all races.
To honor means to give the highest respect or admiration or even reverence to someone or something. To abide by an uncompromising code of integrity and responsibility. To conduct oneself in a trustworthy and ethical manner.
Billy Graham was the first evangelist to demand that his crusades in the segregated South be open to people of all skin color. He wisely chose to fulfill his sacred responsibility to preach the Good News to all people. He first honored God by fulfilling His calling and he honored people by respecting all–regardless of creed and color.
Though Billy Graham was not known as a civil rights leader, he played a significant part in reducing the tension between whites and blacks. In 1965, he canceled a tour of Europe to preach a series of crusades in Alabama, praying that the Gospel would tear down walls of division between the races.
Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at some of his crusades, offering an opportunity at the time for cross-racial collaboration. Together, the two men brought in diverse audiences as they promoted God’s love for all people.
Billy Graham met Dr. King at a 1957 crusade in New York City. He wrote in his autobiography, “One night civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom I was pleased to count a friend, gave an eloquent opening prayer at the service; he also came at my invitation to one of our Team retreats during the Crusade to help us understand the racial situation in America more fully.”
During the civil rights movement, Billy Graham preached: “Jesus was not a white man; He was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe. Christianity is not a white man’s religion, and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people; He belongs to the whole world.”
* Petition: Lord, help us to follow Billy Graham’s example of honoring You and our fellow man.