The legendary Christian pastor Billy Graham, who preached to an estimated 200 million people in 185 countries along with counseling or acting as a minister to 12 American presidents, died on Wednesday at the age of 99.
Every year since 1955, Graham was on Gallup’s list of most admired men and women. His fierce hatred of segregation meant churches had to integrate for his revivals as far back as 1953, when, at a revival in Jackson, Mississippi, ushers set up ropes to segregate the races. Graham asked for the ropes to be removed; when the usher refused, Graham took them down himself and told all the people to sit where they wanted. At a Madison Square Garden revival in 1957, he invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to preach together. As King said, “Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the Civil Rights Movement would not have been as successful as it has been.” Graham often paid the bail and fines that King received when he was jailed.
William Franklin Graham Jr. was born on November 7, 1918, the oldest of four children born to Morrow (née Coffey; 1892–1981) and William Franklin Graham Sr. (1888–1962). He grew up on a family dairy farm near Charlotte, North Carolina. Raised in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, as a child he loved to read books for boys, especially “Tarzan,” which prompted him to hang on trees and yell. His father joked in later years that the yelling led him to become a minister.
In 1933, Graham's father forced him and his sister Katherine to drink beer until they got sick. That prompted both children to swear off alcohol and drugs for the rest of their lives. The next year, having seen the evangelist Mordecai Ham, he was converted by him.
Graham later attended Bob Jones College in Tennessee, where he was almost expelled, but Jones told him, "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.” In 1937, Graham transferred to Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College). That same year, he preached his first sermon at Bostwick Baptist Church. He was ordained by a group of Southern Baptist clergymen at Peniel Baptist Church in 1939. In 1943, Graham graduated from Wheaton College with a degree in anthropology. He married his classmate Ruth Bell on August 13, 1943; they were married for almost 64 years; she died in 2007. He once said, “When it comes to spiritual things, my wife has had the greatest influence on my ministry.”
Graham became a national figure in 1949, when he held a series of revivals in Los Angeles and had circus tents erected in a parking lot. That led to national media coverage, primarily by the Hearst newspapers. In 1950, Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquartered in Minneapolis.
Graham hosted the annual “Billy Graham Crusades,” on television from 1947 until 2005; he also hosted the radio show “Hour of Decision” from 1950 to 1954.
Some sample Graham quotes:
Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion - it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.
When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.
My home is in Heaven. I'm just traveling through this world.