The prayers Billy Graham had for Atlanta

A few years before Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympic Games and decades before the city became the center of filmmaking, home to brand new football and baseball stadiums and a contender for Amazon’s future satellite location, the Rev. Billy Graham recognized the role Atlanta could play on the world stage.

“Atlanta seems to be the crossroads of the whole United States,” Graham told a crowd of 54,000 during his 1994 Atlanta crusade. “Folks in Washington would be surprised to hear that.”

As the pastor to presidents from Truman to Obama, Graham — who died Wednesday at age 99 — certainly knew his way around Washington, but stayed true to his humble beginnings.

“From my front porch I can see 20 miles,” he said during an interview with Gayle White, then The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s religion writer, ahead of the Atlanta crusade. “Ruth and I sit there in the evening and watch the lightning bugs. We sit there with our dogs and cat and hold hands and talk about our children. We talk about the Lord, how wonderful he is.”


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Born to Frank and Morrow Graham on a farm near Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 7, 1918, Graham’s journey to global prominence couldn’t have had a more humble beginning: a traveling revival tent when he was 16. During his ministry he spoke to more than 200 million people at crusades held on six continents over the years, including a number in Atlanta.

“What happens in Atlanta is not only going to affect the South, it’s going to affect the whole nation,” Graham said during the interview.

He first addressed the faithful here in 1950, spreading the Gospel at a 25,000-seat tabernacle built for the occasion at the old Ponce de Leon Ballpark, home of the Atlanta Crackers. By 1973, when he held his second Atlanta crusade at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the crowds exceeded 266,000 during the seven-day engagement.


» PHOTOS: Billy Graham through the years


From the start of his ministry, he championed racial equality and counted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. among his close friends.

“Both Dr. Graham and my father were trying to make the world a better place,” the Rev. Bernice King, CEO of the King Center in Atlanta, said in a video posted on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “They were different, obviously, in their style and their approach. But I think their heart and their goal was the same.”

It was in 1993, at age 74 and by then diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, that Graham said he had one more Atlanta event in him.

“I don’t intend to retire until the Lord retires me,” he told a group of the city’s religious leaders at the time. In an interview closer to the October 1994 date, he said he hoped the event would foster racial unity.

“Atlanta is the capital of the South,” he said. “From the Civil War to ‘Gone With the Wind’ to Coca-Cola to CNN. I pray that out of this (crusade) will come one or two ideas that can help change some of our prejudices, our social injustice.”

Nearly half a million people attended during the five-day event at the Georgia Dome. Graham kicked things off with President Jimmy Carter and Coretta Scott King by his side.

“You’ll never find total satisfaction until you find God, until Christ enters your heart,” he told the crowd of 57,000 on opening night.

Now the country is preparing for his burial services. A motorcade transporting his remains will leave the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, N.C., and was expected to arrive in Charlotte by about 2:20 p.m. Saturday. An arrival ceremony in front of the Billy Graham Library was planned Saturday for 3 p.m.

On Monday and Tuesday, Graham’s body will lie in repose inside the Graham Family homeplace on the Billy Graham Library grounds.

Graham will lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda from Wednesday through Friday. After a private service on March 2, Graham will be buried beside his wife, Ruth, at the foot of the cross-shaped brick walkway in the Prayer Garden, on the northeast side of the Billy Graham Library.

Graham’s 12 grandsons will served as pallbearers; the vessel holding his earthly remains has special significance. Graham’s casket and the one in which Ruth Graham was buried after her death in 2007 were designed and built by inmates at the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary. In 2005, while touring the prison, Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, saw inmates building caskets for other inmates who could not afford to buy one. Franklin Graham was so moved he asked that they make caskets for his parents.

Graham’s pine casket, beautiful in its simplicity, is adorned only with a wooden cross.

The Rev. Gerald Durley, who was a co-chairman of Graham’s 1994 Atlanta Crusade, plans to travel to Charlotte to pay his respects.

“He was the most humble, transparent and genuine person I ever met in my life,” said Durley, pastor emeritus at Providence Missionary Baptist Church. “As great of a speaker he was, he was just as great a listener.”

Other Atlanta faith leaders have joined in paying tribute this week.

“I reflect on Billy Graham’s life and think about all the people who he’s led to Christ. Not the half has been told about the impact he’s had on eternity,” the Rev. Charles F. Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta, said in an interview. “When, one day, all those souls are all assembled together to celebrate his life, it will have to be in heaven because the earth won’t be big enough.”

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

Hunt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, also said he had exchanged text messages with Graham’s grandson, William Franklin Graham.

“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.’”


LYING IN REPOSE

The public can pay respects at his childhood home on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., from 8 a.m. to

10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday

D.C. HONOR

Graham’s body will lie in the U.S. Capitol rotunda Wednesday and Thursday. The public is invited.

PRIVATE FUNERAL

About 2,300 guests, including President Donald Trump and every living former president, have been invited to the private funeral March 2 in Charlotte.