When Billy Graham started supporting the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he was asked “Why would you hook yourself up with a communist? He’s no good.” As we honor the legacy of Dr. King, the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA) has put together a video highlighting Graham’s efforts to support desegregation.
Bernice King, Dr. King’s daughter, is featured on the video saying “They [Graham and King] were different in their style and their approach, but I think their heart and their goal was the same.”
Howard Jones, the first black evangelist of the BGEA, explains how Graham didn’t originally take a stand in the desegregation movement, but later regretted his inaction. During the New York Crusade in 1957, when Graham was preaching to 28,000 people a night in Madison Square Garden, he was concerned he wasn’t reaching black people, and he didn’t want it to become a “white man’s crusade.” So, at the suggestion of Jones, he went to Harlem and Brooklyn to preach. Afterward, black folks started showing up at the main meetings in Madison Square Garden.
Graham invited Dr. King to pray one night at the New York crusade. Bernice believes Graham sharing the platform with King did a lot for the cause of desegregation.
During the height of the crusades, Graham preached the gospel to thousands of people, saying there was “no excuse ever for hatred. No excuse ever for bigotry. We’ve got to love as God loved us.”
Graham caused quite a commotion when he took a stand for desegregation. The video says the organization got a lot of hate mail and Graham garnered many critics. However, today prominent figures see the steps Graham took as exemplary. “It was the beginning of the end of the old south in my home state,” Bill Clinton says as he relates a story about Graham refusing to hold a crusade in Arkansas unless it could be desegregated.
As the video points out, Graham helped King when he was in prison, doing things like paying fines for him. Graham called King a brother and was shocked to learn of his death. Graham’s response to the news of King’s death was caught on camera—showing him just five minutes after hearing the news. Graham called it “one of the greatest shocks of my life.”
If anyone should believe in the ability for races to live in harmony, it should be Christians. “There is a possibility for brotherhood in Christ alone,” as Graham so accurately states. While some could criticize him for mixing ministry with politics, Graham believed “the answer to our great moral problems, our social problems lies in the gospel of Christ—in the transformation he can bring.” Further, the problems we face in our societies are “basically spiritual.”
As Graham said, “Christianity is not a white man’s religion—and don’t let anyone ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world.”