In the 1950s, Rev. Billy Graham was appalled at what he saw at his
Evangelical Crusades in the South – ropes segregating white and black worshipers. Rev. Graham boldly took down the ropes himself after an usher refused to do so. This stand led to his close friendship with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1955, Rev. Graham invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to join him in the pulpit at his 16-week revival in New York City, where 2.3 million gathered at Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium and Times Square to hear them. Though not the South, this still was not a popular decision in 1955.
Just the year before, the NAACP’s legal strategy against segregated education culminated in the 1954 Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. African Americans gained the formal right to study alongside their white peers in primary and secondary schools. The decision fueled a violent resistance during which Southern states used a variety of tactics to evade the law.
In the summer of 1955, a surge of anti-black violence included the kidnapping and brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a crime that provoked widespread and assertive protests from black and white Americans. By December 1955, the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott led by King was one of the first major movements that initiated social change during the civil rights movement.
Rev. William Barber, head of the NAACP’s North Carolina chapter, remarked, “Billy Graham inherited a faith in the American South that had accommodated itself to white supremacy, but he demonstrated a willingness to change and turn toward the truth. He helped to tear down walls of segregation, not build them up.”
In 1956, a group of Southern senators and congressmen signed the “Southern Manifesto,” vowing resistance to racial integration by all “lawful means.” Resistance continued for years, especially in the South. Hundreds of demonstrations erupted in cities and towns across the nation. National and international media coverage of the use of fire hoses and attack dogs against child protesters precipitated a crisis in the Kennedy administration. The bombings and riots in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 11, 1963, compelled Kennedy to call in federal troops.
In 1963, Graham posted bail for Rev. King to be released from jail during the civil rights protests in Birmingham. William Martin, Rev. Graham’s biographer, who I worked closely with for years helping him with research for this book, wrote about what Graham said to evangelicals after the bombing of the African American 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, which killed four girls and injured 22 others,“We should have been leading the way to racial justice, but we failed. Let’s confess it, let’s admit it and let’s do something about it.” Graham stated he was opposed to racial intolerance on not only moral but also spiritual grounds. Rev. Graham was a man who truly practiced what he preached.
I did public relations for Rev. Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for 18 years while working for an international advertising agency in Dallas. I traveled to cities where he held meetings –Buenos Aires, New York, Seattle, Portland, Washington, D.C, Fargo, Little Rock and dozens more – to help set up media interviews, press conferences, write press releases and media briefings.
Rev. Graham could have stayed safe. He could have preached the love of Jesus Christ and not taken down the ropes keeping a divide while sharing the news that “God so loved the world that He gave His only son.” But he did not. He risked it all in the deep South before Civil Rights and he faced a wrath.
In this week’s issue of the Pleasanton Express, Rebecca Pesqueda, News Editor and Sam Fowler, Sports Editor each write eloquently and with much thoughtfulness on the current climate of unrest in our country and world. I am so proud of these two professional journalists who are good, kind, thoughtful and fair and who dare to write about an uncomfortable topic. Who like me support our police and consider many of them to be our true and good friends. I personally would like to ask you, our readers, to take the time to write a letter to the editor stating your opinion on our opinions. You can request for your letter to not be published and we will honor that, too. You can also click on the stories on our website and leave comments there. What I will not be doing is posting our columns to Facebook where I have found the discussion of race to be less than thought provoking and more knee jerk. To me on this topic it is not a place to discuss, learn and grow, but a place to divide.
“There is no excuse ever for hatred. There is no excuse, ever, for bigotry and intolerance and prejudice. We are to love as God loves us.” Rev. Billy Graham
NOEL WILKERSON HOLMES is the Publisher and Managing Editor of the Pleasanton Express. You may reach her at email@example.com