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.
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)