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Faith and Conviction: Billy Graham's Legacy

By Ken Garfield

Garfield has written for Duke Divinity School, The New York Times, The Christian Century, Religion News Service and other publications. He is the author of several books, including Billy Graham: A Life In Pictures, and also writes obituaries.

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, the Billy Graham Library—dedicated in 2007—carries on the legacy of Graham in an interactive setting that features a replica of Graham's childhood home in Charlotte. The library building itself is built as a barn in memory of where Graham came from. The Library was designed to be a continuation of Graham’s crusade where visitors can learn about his story and his message.


“Billy Graham,” Bio. 2015 <;

“What is the Library?” The Billy Graham Library.

Garfield, Ken. Billy Graham: A Life in Pictures. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2013.

“Profile: William (Billy) F. Graham.” Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. 2015. <

Tags:   Religion  |   Civil Rights

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