How Rev. Billy Graham fought for Civil Rights

Credit: Jennifer Brett

Credit: Jennifer Brett

When the Rev. Billy Graham brought his large Crusade gatherings to the South in the 1950s, he was alarmed at what he saw: Ropes segregating white and black worshipers.

EARLIER: Evangelist Billy Graham is dead at 99 

"I was appalled at it and decided I had to speak out on it," Graham says in a video discussing his work to advance Civil Rights. "I said, 'No more of this.' I went to the head usher and asked him if he would remove the ropes.'"

When the usher refused, Graham took the ropes down himself. The usher resigned in a huff, but Graham's stand led to a friendship with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

MORE: What Billy Graham's crusades were like

"He practiced what he preached," the late Cliff Barrows, longtime music and program director for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said in the video.

Rev. William Barber, head of the NAACP's North Carolina chapter, noted Graham's efforts to advance racial equality in remarks posted via Medium.

"Billy Graham inherited a faith in the American South that had accommodated itself to white supremacy, but he demonstrated a willingness to change and turn toward the truth," Barber wrote. "He helped to tear down walls of segregation, not build them up. One biographer noted after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, Graham told fellow evangelicals: 'We should have been leading the way to racial justice but we failed. Let’s confess it, let’s admit it, and let’s do something about it.'”

The Rev. Bernice King, CEO of the King Center in Atlanta, also was interviewed for the video.

"Both Dr. Graham and my father were trying to make the world a better place," she said in the clip. "They were different, obviously, in their style and their approach. But I think their heart and their goal was the same."

The Gospel Coalition noted Graham's devoted friendship with Rev. King in its piece highlighting interesting facts about the late spiritual leader:

"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 which 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."

Graham was opposed to racial intolerance on not only moral but also spiritual grounds.

"There is no excuse ever for hatred. There is no excuse, ever, for bigotry and intolerance and prejudice," he said in the video. "We are to love as God loves us."

Atlanta faith leaders were among the many offering words of tribute and consolation after the announcement that Graham had passed away at his Montreat, N.C. home.

"Isn’t it a fitting tribute to a Billy Graham’s life that on every major news outlet that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being shared over and over," Johnson Ferry Baptist Church senior pastor Bryant Wright said via social media. "Oh Lord, May Jesus and the Gospel be the focus as we live each day and when any of us are called to Heaven one day!"

Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, posted: "Only Heaven knows the INFLUENCE of this wonderful MAN OF GOD on our world. RIP dear brother."

Hunt, like Wright a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, also said he had exchanged text messages with Graham's grandson, William Franklin Graham, known as Will, who serves as the Billy Graham Evangelical Association's vice president and associate evangelist.

"He said his grandfather said, 'One day you will hear that Billy Graham is dead, don’t you believe it, I’m more alive than ever.'"