Evangelism, Racial Tension, and Clay Feet: Reflections on the Life of Billy Graham

Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr., and racial tensions and bridge building today.


“People are often led to causes and often become committed to great ideas through persons who personify those ideas. They have to find the embodiment of the idea in flesh and blood in order to commit themselves to it.” - Martin Luther King, Jr., February 13, 1961

For 20 years, I didn’t know a thing about Billy Graham. Over that time, he came to be affectionately known as America’s Pastor. But as an American, I had not heard one of his sermons or watched any of his crusades. As it turns out, I wasn’t alone.

As LifeWay Research recently pointed out, 33% of Protestant churchgoers don’t know Billy Graham’s ministry. I’d venture to say that a good percentage of those churchgoers are African-American. For 20 years of my life, that was true of me. As an African-American man raised in a Baptist church in the South, Graham wasn’t on my radar.

In fact, I stumbled upon Graham’s ministry accidentally. As I consumed biographical content about one of my heroes in the faith, Martin Luther King, Jr., Graham’s name and his relationship with King peaked my interest. Who was this man of whom King said, “Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the Civil Rights Movement would not have been as successful as it has been?”

Graham met King during a 1957 crusade in New York. They soon became friends—a friendship that led King to ask that Graham call him by his childhood name, Mike. As I read more about Graham (via King’s life), I decided to listen to some of Graham’s Crusade messages. They were simple, yet profound. As I listened, I hoped one day to learn more about his life and legacy. Little did I know that one day, ...

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