Billy Graham’s first visit to Atlanta

Dr. Billy Graham has been hospitalized again in North Carolina. The legendary preacher, 93, is receiving treatment for pneumonia at Mission Hospital in Asheville, a short distance from his home in Montreat. The evangelist, who was treated for pneumonia in May, is listed as being in stable condition.

Feb. 8, 1950 - Journal Columnist Morgan Blake, right, admirer of the great evangelist Billy Sunday, talks with the dynamic Dr. Billy Graham, revivalist, whose fame and following are reaching the proportions of his famous predecessor. The interview took place on The Journal's program 'Views of the News' Wednesday night on WSB. (original cutline as it appeared in the newspaper)

Feb. 8, 1950 - Journal Columnist Morgan Blake, right, admirer of the great evangelist Billy Sunday, talks with the dynamic Dr. Billy Graham, revivalist, whose fame and following are reaching the proportions of his famous predecessor. The interview took place on The Journal's program 'Views of the News' Wednesday night on WSB. (original cutline as it appeared in the newspaper)

Several years ago I filled in for the vacationing Q&A editor and figured it was easier to research one question instead of several.

So, on Jan. 1, 2006, I wrote a Q&A on Graham’s first visit to Atlanta, which may be the shortest question/longest answer in AJC history.

Q: When was Billy Graham’s first crusade held in Atlanta? — Bernice White, Smyrna, GA

A: The North Carolina evangelist’s first Atlanta crusade was held from Oct. 29 to Dec. 10, 1950, said a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

He would return two more times, in 1973 and 1994. In an Oct. 30 Atlanta Constitution article appearing under the headline “Revival hits godless Russia, Graham premiere here draws 25,000, ” reporter Celestine Sibley wrote that Georgians “filled the grandstand and overflowed into the bleachers as Billy Graham’s stormy evangelical crusade got underway at Ponce de Leon Park Sunday afternoon.”

At the time, it was the largest audience to have heard a Graham sermon, surpassing an earlier Portland, Ore., crusade by about 8,000, the article said. Standing in the outfield at Atlanta’s old baseball stadium, the current site of a Home Depot, Graham delivered a sermon that “crackled with brimstone-and-damnation promises of God’s judgment being upon a wicked nation.”

Graham “crammed his sermon full of statistics on divorce, crime, alcoholism, the consumption of habit-forming drugs, suicides and failures of the church to show that the nation will deserve what it gets.”

“‘Our way of life faces catastrophe!’ he cried, ” Sibley wrote. ” ‘Our way of life stands on the brink of destruction! Communism, that fanatical, supernatural, Satan-inspired religion has declared war on God. But I am not so much afraid of Communism as I am of God’s judgment.’ “

Introduced at the Sunday night sermon by Graham were “Gov. and Mrs. [Herman] Talmadge, Lt. Gov. Marvin Griffin and Mayor [William B.] Hartsfield.” The “magic eyes of WSB-TV . . . took the service into an unknown number of homes, ” wrote Constitution reporter Gordon Sawyer in another article.

The large crowds required 40 extra trolleys and 15 policemen to help handle traffic and parking.

William Franklin Graham was born Nov. 7, 1918, in Charlotte and raised on a dairy farm. In 1939, he was ordained as a Southern Baptist minister. Graham married Ruth McCue Bell in 1943 and they had five children.

He took a position as pastor at the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Ill., from 1943 to 1945. He served as president of Northwestern Schools from 1947 to 1952, during which time he founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Minneapolis.

His popular radio program “Hour of Decision” also began in 1950 and was heard on more than 700 stations around the world. He conducted 417 crusades during his long career, a spokesman said. His first crusade was in 1949 in Los Angeles.

His last was at New York’s Flushing Meadows Corona Park in June 2005, where about 242,000 attended, a spokesman said. All told, he is believed to have preached live to 210 million people in 185 countries.

Graham has largely retired and is now living in the North Carolina mountains working on a book. “Ruth and I have enjoyed our time together these last few months, and we both feel at peace about the decision to have the New York meetings be our last, ” Graham says on his Web site.  [Note: Ruth Graham died June 14, 2007 at age 87.]

“We know that God can still use us to reach people with the Gospel message in other ways, and we look forward to seeing how He will do so.” For more information, visit www.billygraham.org.

— George Mathis (1/1/2006)

7 comments Add your comment

Rob

May 11th, 2011
6:46 pm

I’ve met Rev. Graham on multiple occasions. He is a true man of god, and a true man of class. I hope his health returns, although, he said at the funeral of his wife, Ruth, he is looking forward to the next funeral held at his library, which will be his own.

Jon Wesley Braswell

May 11th, 2011
6:58 pm

What an Awesome American and Christian. Graham is living proof that our Awesome Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has not giving up on us yet. Hey Billy, Thanks for being faithful to the call, Go God!!

Forsyth

May 11th, 2011
7:01 pm

“‘Our way of life faces catastrophe!’ he cried,…Our way of life stands on the brink of destruction!”

Billy’s prophecy appears to be coming true, unfortunately.

dontdoitmiranda

May 11th, 2011
8:20 pm

I like to think I was one of the few people to have seen both Billy Graham and the Rolling Stones in October of 1994 when he was here at the Ga Dome.

Jai

May 11th, 2011
8:33 pm

A true man of God. Feel better Rev. Graham!!!!

BJH

May 12th, 2011
10:07 am

What a great blessing this man has been to the world. Never heard nothing but good about him. May God be with you during your illness.Praying for you.

carla roqs

May 16th, 2011
8:56 am

i was at the 1973 crusade. i was only 6 or 7 and it was overwhelming, there were so many people there. my grandmother sung in the huge, city wide choir. i have always loved dr graham’s fundamentalism. unfortunately i heard that his son recently made a remark that never would have come out of his father’s mouth. may God bless you Billy Graham.