Preaching Redemption Amidst Racism: Remembering Billy Graham

Carl Ellis, Jr. reflects on the impact of Rev. Billy Graham on race relations and culture today.


When I was a young campus minister working with Tom Skinner Associates, I had the honor of meeting Dr. William Franklin Graham twice. I remember him as an approachable man, not given to living out the greatness of his own press. I actively participated in his evangelistic crusades whenever they were in or near my city, and I would do so again today without hesitation.

Although several of Dr. Graham's early Southern crusades were racially segregated, he came to see segregation as inconsistent with the gospel. In the early 1950s, he began refusing to speak in some segregated auditoriums. Before the start of the 1953 Chattanooga Crusade, he personally took down the ropes intended to enforce segregation, telling two of the ushers, "Either these ropes stay down or you can go on and have the revival without me." [1]

Yet after that, he acquiesced to preaching in segregated venues in Asheville, North Carolina, and Dallas, Texas. At times, Rev. Graham made statements that seemed to reveal a lack of awareness of the connection between segregation and sin. At other times, he forcefully condemned White racism. By the mid-1950s, he courageously and consistently defied Jim Crow laws by insisting that all crusades be conducted on a non-segregated basis.

At the 1957 New York Crusade, Graham welcomed Thomas Kilgore and Gardner Taylor (both African American Pastors) onto the crusade's executive committee, [2] and openly called for "anti-segregation legislation." [3] He also had Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. join him in the pulpit at the crusade.

Later, Dr. King praised Dr. Graham for his commitment to non-segregation:

I am deeply grateful to you for the stand which you have taken in the area of race relations. You have ...

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