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Martin Luther King and My Father and Howard Jones

This is reprinted from Christian Broadcasting Network. It is important to revisit history for the events that helped shape our lives and determine our future. We must not forget nor fail to remember the truth of events.

Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say that the most segregated hour in the country was on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m.

However, that all began to slowly change in 1952 when the Reverend Billy Graham made a decision to stop holding segregated crusades.

He faced an insurmountable amount of criticism for this decision, but with the guidance of King and other leaders such as Reverend Howard Jones – the first black evangelist – Graham changed the face of religion in America as we know it.

The year was 1953. America’s borders were filled with racial tension and uncertainty.

Graham was sailing uncharted territory when he did the unthinkable. He held a crusade in Chattanooga, Tennessee where hundreds of thousands of men, women and children of all races sat together and worshiped the Lord.

“When God looks at you, He doesn’t look on the outward appearance; the Bible says He looks upon the heart,” Graham said. And he took his fight to end segregation to the streets.

Graham had been preaching at Madison Square Garden to thousands nightly, but very few blacks came. So, at the suggestion of a colleague, he asked Jones for help. Jones recommended that Graham take his message to the streets of New York, and that’s exactly what he did.

Jones said, “I decided I was never going to speak to anymore segregated audiences and he said, ‘I want it to be that way. He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said ‘Go to Harlem.'”

Graham preached at Salem Methodist Church to thousands. The next week, he went to Brooklyn. And slowly, but surely, the crusades in New York became increasingly integrated.

Prominent singer Ethel Waters attended the event and re-dedicated her life to Christ.

Enter… Martin Luther King

Graham even invited his good friend King, to one of the events.

“We thank Thee this evening for the marvelous things that have been done in the city through the dynamic preaching of this evangelist. We ask Thee, oh God, to continue blessing him and give him power and authorities. divine influence,” King prayed.

Graham faced a flurry of criticism from both blacks and whites, but that did not deter him.

“Some whites wanted to know why you would fool around with these people. And some said if you’re going to integrate your team we will not support you. We will not give you money, so they used all kinds of pressures on him, but he said ‘I don’t care. I’m going to stick by my guns,'” Jones said.

On the black side, Graham found himself facing criticism that he wasn’t doing enough so support the black community and that he “didn’t speak enough about civil rights,” BGEA associate evangelist Dr. Ralph Bell said.

Graham went to King for advice.

Graham recounted his conversation with King: “Martin Luther King suggested to me that I stay in the South and hold integrated meetings and that he was going to take to the streets and that he would probably get killed in the streets. ‘But I don’t think you ought to because you are going to be able to do some things that I can’t and I’m going to be able to do some things you can’t, but we’re after the same objective.'”

And so he did, holding crusades from Arkansas to Alabama.

“So here we were with neighborhood after neighborhood after neighborhood in my state on the verge of violence, and yet tens of thousands of black and white Christians were there together in a football stadium,” recalled former President Bill Clinton.

“And when he issued the call at the end of this message, thousands came down holding hands, arm in arm crying,” Clinton said. “It was the beginning of the end of the old South in my home state. I will never forget it.”

He even went to South Africa preaching before an integrated audience in 1973.

Graham also worked closely with Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon – urging them to ensure equality for all.

“Then there’s the race problem, and it seems to me should be put in its proper perspective” Graham said. “It is a world problem… there is greater improvement being made in America than perhaps any great nation in the history of the world because we are at least attempting to solve the problem through understanding, through dialogue, through legislation.

In the end, Graham’s legacy is one that is filled with a message of love, togetherness, and unity.

Jones said, “I think Billy has proven the fact that in Christ there’s no east or west and no north or south. We just love Him.”

Graham said, “The human heart is the same the world over. Only Christ can meet the deepest needs of our world and our hearts. Christ alone can bring lasting peace — peace with God, peace among men and nations.”

0 replies
  1. Alan
    Alan says:

    A shortish story the other day I was popping out to the local shop to buy some milk and as I waked past some wast bins,
    I could see a lot of books just dumped on the top of the wast bins and I thought on the way back I will look and see what books have been thrown away two bibles one very large the other a normal bible. “”Both very old””
    I was talking to a Muslim friend and told him he said I hope you took the bibles out of the wast bin, I said yes I could never see any religious books thrown away like the look on his face a big smile his words we are all one human race Alan and must learn to live and understand each other.

    I said yes if only the politicians would learn and stop calling and creating all these needless wars.
    The world would be a better place for all.

  2. daughter of God
    daughter of God says:

    Thank you for sharing this history. I did not know. I also am so thrilled to have heard the story of the Cross that your father gave the world. How can one get copies of that to give away? Again, thank you for sharing history….it is good to know that Christians brought change against oppression and it worked! We still have that call to keep fighting for fairness for all. The history you shared was only 60 years ago…not long ago at all.

  3. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    It’s been a very very long slow change. I can remember a Baptist visitor to our Church in East Anglia England explaining why separate Churches were necessary for separate ethnic groups in Texas. This was in the early 1980s and he was a student minister from the First Baptist Church Dallas. The man is now a Professor at a Southern Baptist University but I don’t know if he still retains the same views. He never made clear where people of dual or mixed heritage were supposed to attend.

  4. Gerri
    Gerri says:

    Thanks for sharing that inspiring message. I loved to listen to Billy Graham. The first time I heard him preach was in 1975 at the Heizel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium. It was amazing! His message was translated in over 20 different languages. Many decisions were made!
    I appreciate his stance on desegregation. God never looks at the color of a person’s skin..He looks at the heart. We are to love the people that God loves.
    I respect Billy Graham so much..praise the Lord for his ministry of sharing the love of God to thousands of people world-wide.

  5. Bob
    Bob says:

    Surely anyone can see that it would be a dreary old world if we were all white or black or in between . God has made everyone of us different both in skin and charachter
    He is the God of infinite variety . Heaven will be a place of constant wonder and amazement .So instead of judging each other we should be thankful for each other no matter our colour of skin or race. Loving each other and showing that love through Jesus would make this world a very different place. Thanks for posting this blog Ruth and bringing these things to our notice

    • ruthgraham
      ruthgraham says:

      Yes. That is all so true. But our history shows we have discriminated because of all sorts of things – our fallen nature enjoys labeling others so we can justify our sinful practices. May we all be more gracious and understanding of differences.

  6. Bob
    Bob says:

    Yes Ruth, I live in a part of the U.K that is sparse in colour differences so have little experience of the integration problem, If only we could live up to your last sentence , myself included . Thanks again for your words of wisdom.


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