Billy Graham is one of the most prominent evangelists of twentieth-century America. In the course of his life, he has preached to more than 200 million people across the globe. He was included for five decades in the Gallup Poll's list of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World.”
Graham was born on November 17, 1918, to a religious couple who ran a dairy farm in North Carolina . He was interested in baseball and hoped to join the professional ranks. At the age of sixteen, Graham experienced a religious conversion, and by 1938 he believed God had called him to preach. His commitment to his faith was unswerving, and throughout his years at the Florida Bible Institute, he preached on street corners, in small churches, and at mission services.
Graham earned a degree in anthropology from Wheaton College in Illinois . The Wheaton years marked two important events in the preacher's life: he decided at that point to take the Bible as the infallible word of God, and he met classmate Ruth Bell. The two married soon after graduation, and she remained his dedicated partner until her death in 2007. They had five children, nineteen grandchildren, and twenty-eight great-grandchildren.
Graham became a full-time evangelist for Youth for Christ International, a job that required him to tour the country conducting meetings. Because America had just celebrated a victorious conclusion to World War II (1939–45), church membership and interest in religion was on the rise. So, too, were the number of evangelists, many of whom were not truly dedicated to serve in a religious sense. As one religious scandal after another occurred, Graham and his team managed to avoid the pitfalls that often led to the toppling of a ministry.
In 1949, Graham scheduled a series of revival meetings in Los Angeles, California . These missions, which took place in circus tents set up in parking lots, lasted eight weeks, though they had been scheduled for just three. The popularity of the missions was largely a result of massive media coverage by newspapers owned by media mogul William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951). It was during this period that Graham became a national religious figure.
From 1948 to 1952, Graham was president of Minnesota 's Northwestern College. He established the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950, and his ministries included a radio program that lasted for more than fifty years, a newspaper column, a magazine, and even a movie production studio, World Wide Pictures.
Graham's ministries kept him in the spotlight. He took the missions overseas to London for twelve weeks, and continued touring Europe, where he preached to massive crowds. He then spent another sixteen weeks in New York City, where he preached to more than two million people. Graham spoke of the evils of segregation , and his friend, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr . (1929–1968), joined him at the pulpit during the mission. This 1957 New York City Crusade became the first ever to be broadcast on network television. By the late 1990s, his televised crusades reached sixty million viewers each year.
Graham served as spiritual advisor to an array of U.S. presidents, including John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) and Gerald Ford (1913–2006; served 1974–77). President George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) called him “America's Pastor.” Graham gave sermons after some of the most devastating tragedies on American soil, including the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995 and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks . The preacher attended his last crusade in 2006, along with son Franklin. This mission, called the “Festival of Hope,” was held in New Orleans, Louisiana , which was recovering from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. In all, Graham had conducted more than forty-one evangelistic missions since 1948.
In his later years, Graham has suffered from Parkinson's disease and other ailments. He has spent his retirement years in Montreat, North Carolina.
Billy Graham (William Franklin Graham) (grā´əm), 1918–, American evangelist, b. Charlotte, N.C., grad. Wheaton College (B.A., 1943). Graham was ordained a minister in the Southern Baptist Church (1939), was the pastor of a Chicago church (his first and last pastorate), and in 1944 became an evangelist for the American Youth for Christ movement. In 1949 he received national attention for an extended evangelical campaign in Los Angeles. He subsequently made preaching tours (for which he popularized the term
) in most major U.S. cities and in Europe, Africa, South America, Asia, Australia, and Russia. His reputation made him a favored guest of politicians and presidents. Graham, who in his preaching consistently stressed personal conversion and scriptural authority, is identified with the conservative Protestant movement known as neo-evangelicalism (see fundamentalism) and is to a large degree responsible for establishing it as part of the American mainstream. He also co-founded the journal Christianity Today. The Billy Graham Evangelical Association, founded in 1950, publishes Decision magazine and produces programs for radio, television, and screen. Graham retired as head of the association in 2000; Franklin Graham, his son, succeeded him as its leader. Billy Graham held his final crusade in 2004.
See his autobiography, Just as I Am (1997); biographies by W. C. McLaughlin (1960), M. Frady (1979), and W. Martin (1991); studies by S. P. Miller (2009) and G. Wacker (2014).
GRAHAM, Billy. (William F. Graham). American, b. 1918. Genres: Theology/Religion, Inspirational/Motivational Literature. Career: Evangelist; Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, founder, 1950-; Hour of Decision, leader of the weekly radio program, 1950-; My Answer, author of the syndicated newspaper column, 1952-; known for world evangelistic campaigns. Ordained Southern Baptist minister, 1939; First Baptist Church, Western Springs, IL, pastor, 1943-45; FirstYouth for Christ Intn., Chicago, vice-president, 1945-50; Northwestern College, Minneapolis, president, 1947-52. Publications: Peace with God, 1953; The Secret of Happiness, 1955; My Answer, 1960; World Aflame, 1965; The Challenge, 1969; The Jesus Generation, 1971; Angels: God's Secret Agents, 1975; Billy Graham Talks to Teenagers, 1976; How to Be Born Again, 1977; The Holy Spirit, 1978; Till Armageddon, 1981; Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, 1983; A Biblical Standard for Evangelists, 1984; Unto the Hills, 1986; Facing Death and the Life After, 1987; Answers to Life's Problems, 1988; Hope for the Troubled Heart, 1991; Storm Warnings, 1992; Just as I Am, 1997. Address: 1300 Harmon Pl, Minneapolis, MN 55403, U.S.A.