The Rev. Billy Graham passed away today at the age of 99. Here are nine things you should know about the man who was considered one of the most influential evangelists in modern history:
1. Graham has preached the gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history—nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories.
2. After graduating from Sharon High School in May 1936, Graham attended Bob Jones College. After one semester, he found it too legalistic in both coursework and rules. He was almost expelled, but Bob Jones Sr. warned him not to throw his life away: “At best, all you could amount to would be a poor country Baptist preacher somewhere out in the sticks. . . . You have a voice that pulls. God can use that voice of yours. He can use it mightily.”
3. Graham transferred from Bob Jones College to Florida Bible Institute. After graduating from the Bible college he earned his BA (1943) from Wheaton College in Illinois. In 1947, at age 30, he was hired as president of Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis, Minnesota—at the time, the youngest person to serve as a sitting president of any U.S. college or university.
4. After a Los Angeles revival that included the conversion of Hollywood stars, Graham was surprised by a crowd of reporters and photographers. When Graham asked what caused the fuss, a reporter said, “You have just been kissed by William Randolph Hearst.” The powerful newspaper mogul had sent the message that his reporters were to “Puff Graham.” Within days, the crusade was being given extensive coverage by Hearst’s chain of papers, major national magazines, and wire services. Graham never met Hearst, and no one is sure why the publisher took an interest in the evangelist. But as a result of the media coverage, Graham soon moved from a tent evangelist to a national figure.
5. Graham’s ministry was the subject of controversy in the mid-1950s because of his “cooperative evangelism.” Graham began accepting non-evangelical support and funding from liberal and mainline Protestant churches and denominations. This move necessitated that converts at his crusades would be recommended to attend conservative and nonconservative churches alike.
6. In 1955, 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. In his autobiography, Graham says he and King developed a close friendship and that he was eventually one of the few people who referred to King as “Mike,” a nickname that King asked only his closest friends to call him. In 1963, Graham posted bail for King to be released from jail during the civil-rights protests in Birmingham.
7. In the early 1980s, Graham said he planned to spend the rest of his life preaching the gospel and working for global nuclear disarmament. In an interview with Sojourners, Graham said, “Is a nuclear holocaust inevitable if the arms race is not stopped? Frankly, the answer is almost certainly yes.”
8. No other American has slept in the White House Lincoln Bedroom more than Graham, who was often referred to as the “pastor to the presidents.” Graham had a relationship or personal audience with every U.S. president from Truman to Obama. He was particularly close with Eisenhower, who asked for Graham while on his deathbed, and Nixon. He presided over the graveside services for president Lyndon Johnson in 1973 and spoke at the funeral of president Richard Nixon in 1994. The only president who didn’t like Graham, as the evangelist frequently noted, was Truman. Truman called Graham a “counterfeit” and said “he was never a friend of mine when I was President.”
9. Graham received many honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the nation’s highest civilian award), the Congressional Gold Medal, an Honorary Knighthood in Order of the British Empire, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was also the first non-musician to be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. He received the honor in 1999 for providing a platform to many Christian artists who performed at Graham’s events.
Other posts in this series:
Frederick Douglass • Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 • Winter Olympics • The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Murders • Events and Discoveries in 2017 • Christmas Traditions • Sexual Misconduct • Lutheranism • Jewish High Holy Days • Nation of Islam • Slave Trade • Solar Eclipses • Alcohol Abuse in America • History of the Homeschooling Movement • Eugenics • North Korea • Ramadan • Black Hebrew Israelites • Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Confirmations • International Women’s Day • Health Effects of Marijuana • J. R. R. Tolkien • Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis • Fidel Castro • C.S. Lewis • ESV Bible • Alzheimer’s Disease • Mother Teresa • The Opioid Epidemic • The Olympic Games • Physician-Assisted Suicide • Nuclear Weapons • China’s Cultural Revolution • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Harriet Tubman • Autism • Seventh-day Adventism • Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) • Female Genital Mutilation • Orphans • Pastors • Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition) • Global Hunger • National Hispanic Heritage Month • Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • Halloween and Reformation Day • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues • Islamic State