In 1934, Billy Graham, the son of Charlotte dairy farmers, answered the altar call at a tent revival in Charlotte put on by traveling evangelist Mordecai Ham. Improbably, he grew up to be one of the world’s most famous religious figures, and his legacy endures in many ways.
That Charlotte tent revival set Graham on a course for a career in Christian ministry. He attended three different Christian colleges for undergraduate and graduate studies and became ordained as a minister in 1939. He worked in various churches and religious organizations, including a Christian ministry for returning WWII veterans. In 1949, he was asked to preach at a revival in Los Angeles. The event drew large crowds and was widely covered in the media, launching Billy Graham’s career as a public figure.
Decades before churches and corporations were coming to grips with social media, Graham mastered the art of communicating through television, radio, print, and film. His sermons and writings reached millions through media programming and periodical magazines.
As well as becoming a force in the Christian world, Graham took on the role of spiritual adviser and confidante to many American Presidents, beginning in the 1950s. He also worked closely with Civil Rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., advocating for integration and racial equality.
Over a lifetime in which he preached to more than 215 million people, he was an example of how organized religion can blend faith and integrity with entertainment to reach the masses.
Personally, Billy Graham remained unsullied by scandal despite his enormous fame and influence.
Graham led his last crusade in 2005, but his wisdom resonates long after the last “amen.” The power of his legacy springs from the hope he imparted to millions of Christians. He taught that life gives second chances to all, despite past choices, and that belief leads to new life.
Today, Graham’s birthplace is host to the Billy Graham Evangelical Association’s museum that focuses his life and work. The city honors him with a parkway that bears his name. Charlotte is proud to claim Billy Graham.
“Billy Graham,” Bio. 2015 < http://www.biography.com/people/billy-graham-9317669>
Garfield, Ken. Billy Graham: A Life in Pictures. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2013.
“Profile: William (Billy) F. Graham.” Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. 2015.