February 22, 2008
CBNNews.com – Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say that the most segregated hour in the country was on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m.
However, that all began to slowly change in 1952 when the Reverend
Billy Graham made a decision to stop holding segregated crusades.
He faced an insurmountable amount of criticism for this decision,
but with the guidance of King and other leaders such as Reverend Howard
Jones – the first black evangelist – Graham changed the face of
religion in America as we know it.
A Trip Back in Time
|WEB EXTRA! INTERVIEW WITH REV. JONES:|
Reflections on Being
The year was 1953. America’s borders were filled with racial tension and uncertainty.
Graham was sailing uncharted territory when he did the unthinkable.
He held a crusade in Chattanooga, Tennessee where hundreds of thousands
of men, women and children of all races sat together and worshiped the
"When God looks at you, He doesn’t look on the outward appearance;
the Bible says He looks upon the heart," Graham said. And he took his
fight to end segregation to the streets.
Graham had been preaching at Madison Square Garden to thousands
nightly, but very few blacks came. So, at the suggestion of a
colleague, he asked Jones for help. Jones recommended that Graham take
his message to the streets of New York, and that’s exactly what he did.
Jones said, "I decided I was never going to speak to anymore
segregated audiences and he said, ‘I want it to be that way. He said,
‘What do you mean?’ I said ‘Go to Harlem.’"
Graham preached at Salem Methodist Church to thousands. The next
week, he went to Brooklyn. And slowly, but surely, the crusades in New
York became increasingly integrated.
Prominent singer Ethel Waters attended the event and re-dedicated her life to Christ.
Enter… Martin Luther King
Graham even invited his good friend King, to one of the events.
"We thank Thee this evening for the marvelous things that have been
done in the city through the dynamic preaching of this evangelist. We
ask Thee, oh God, to continue blessing him and give him power and
authorities. divine influence," King prayed.
Graham faced a flurry of criticism from both blacks and whites, but that did not deter him.
"Some whites wanted to know why you would fool around with these
people. And some said if you’re going to integrate your team we will
not support you. We will not give you money, so they used all kinds of
pressures on him, but he said ‘I don’t care. I’m going to stick by my
guns,’" Jones said.
On the black side, Graham found himself facing criticism that he
wasn’t doing enough so support the black community and that he "didn’t
speak enough about civil rights," BGEA associate evangelist Dr. Ralph
Graham went to King for advice.
Graham recounted his conversation with King: "Martin Luther King
suggested to me that I stay in the South and hold integrated meetings
and that he was going to take to the streets and that he would probably
get killed in the streets. ‘But I don’t think you ought to because you
are going to be able to do some things that I can’t and I’m going to be
able to do some things you can’t, but we’re after the same objective.’"
And so he did, holding crusades from Arkansas to Alabama.
"So here we were with neighborhood after neighborhood after
neighborhood in my state on the verge of violence, and yet tens of
thousands of black and white Christians were there together in a
football stadium," recalled former President Bill Clinton.
"And when he issued the call at the end of this message, thousands
came down holding hands, arm in arm crying," Clinton said. "It was the
beginning of the end of the old South in my home state. I will never
He even went to South Africa preaching before an integrated audience in 1973.
Graham also worked closely with Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon – urging them to ensure equality for all.
"Then there’s the race problem, and it seems to me should be put in
its proper perspective" Graham said. "It is a world problem… there is
greater improvement being made in America than perhaps any great nation
in the history of the world because we are at least attempting to solve
the problem through understanding, through dialogue, through
In the end, Graham’s legacy is one that is filled with a message of love, togetherness, and unity.
Jones said, "I think Billy has proven the fact that in Christ there’s no east or west and no north or south. We just love Him."
Graham said, "The human heart is the same the world over. Only
Christ can meet the deepest needs of our world and our hearts. Christ
alone can bring lasting peace — peace with God, peace among men and