Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Clear Message About Civil Rights

In the summer of 1957, New York's Madison Square Garden was filled nightly, as famous preacher Billy Graham delivered his encouraging messages. Graham was already famous as a spiritual mentor, but this summer added a new twist: he boldly advanced the cause of civil rights. To the amazement of many, he invited the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at his events. Rice University's William Martin describes the impact:

The implication was unmistakable: Graham was letting both whites and blacks know that he was willing to be identified with the revolution and its foremost leader, and King was telling blacks that Graham was their ally.

Billy Graham represented the hopes of millions of American Christians, both African-Americans and whites. They wanted more than racial equality: they wanted to live and work together with people of various races. Graham gave concrete form to what millions were thinking:

his voice was important in declaring that a Christian racist was an oxymoron.

Graham's working partnership with Martin Luther King angered many racists. The racists, in turn, maligned Christians and their desire for racial harmony.

This action led many southerners to turn against Graham, but he did not waver. Instead, he subsequently traveled to Birmingham, Little Rock, and other strife-torn cities in the South, calling on Christians to recognize that the ground at the foot of the cross is level and that God is no respecter of persons.

The Christians in the 1950's would not be deterred by the anger of the bigots, and Graham travelled to those cities which were the epicenters of civil rights activities. Graham and King supported each other until King's death in 1968.