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Who is Billy Graham?


Who is Billy Graham?

Billy Graham

George W. Hales/Getty Images

Who is Billy Graham?:

Billy Graham was born William Franklin Graham, Jr. He was born November 7, 1918 and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is one of the most central Christian figures of the 20th century. Considered a prominent evangelical Christian, he is a Southern Baptist.


After graduating Sharon High School in 1936, Billy Graham headed off to Bob Jones University. He found it too legalistic, so he transferred to Florida Bible Institute (now known as Trinity College of Florida). He graduated, though, from Wheaton College, in Wheaton, IL in 1943 with a degree in Anthropology. Later he became the youngest college president when, at 30, he became the college president of Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN.


Rev. Graham was born into a Presbyterian family, but eventually converted to Southern Baptist. He met Ruth Bell at Wheaton College and married her two weeks after they graduated. He and Ruth had five children, Virginia, Anne, Ruth, Franklin, and Nelson. Franklin is currently the successor at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

A Start in Radio:

Billy Graham got his start in radio after taking over a radio show, Songs in the Night, from friend, Torrey Johnson. He wanted to be an Armed Forces Chaplain, but contracted the mumps. He then went on to become a full-time evangelist for Youth for Christ International.

Growing in Influence:

In 1949 Billy Graham began a crusade in Los Angeles in which he scheduled numerous revival meetings in parking lot circus tents. The success of this revival, and the resulting rise to prominence that ensued, may much be attributed to assistance received from the media mogul William Randolph Hearst. This assistance meant promotion in Hearst's newspapers and national magazines. It also meant more crusades and more influence. He even helped Hearst promote his conservative anti-communist views. In 1950 Billy Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which has consistently grown in influence.

The Civil Rights Era:

Billy Graham was also influential during the Civil Rights era, though his was not always a straight path. He responded to the Civil Rights Movement eventually by tearing down ropes at events that were designed to segregate, but at times succumbed to segregation in other areas. He did eventually become more vocally opposed to segregation and racism, and reminded people that there was no biblical basis for racial segregation. He also posted bail to release Martin Luther King, Jr. from jail and invited him speak at a 1957 New York City revival in 1957.

Billy Graham in Times of Crisis:

The reverend is well respected globally. He was invited to speak behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. He would not visit South Africa during Apartheid. He also stepped into secular society by discussing theology on a Woody Allen special in 1969.

His respect and wisdom is often sought out in times of crisis. After the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, he was asked to speak at a memorial service. In 2001 he spoke at a remembrance service at the Washington National Cathedral after the September 11 attacks. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina he held a Festival of Hope with Franklin Graham.

A Role in Politics:

Politics have also not eluded Reverend Graham. He is a registered Democrat, but has at times leaned right. However, he refuses to associate himself with the Religious Right and famously declined an invitation to join Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. He believes that politics should take a backseat to the Gospel, and does not believe Evangelicals should be associated with a particular party.

A Handful of Billy Graham Books:

  • Calling Youth to Christ (1947)
  • America's Hour of Decision (1951)
  • Peace with God (1953, 1984)
  • The Secret of Happiness (1955, 1985)
  • Billy Graham Talks to Teenagers (1958)
  • My Answer (1960)
  • World Aflame (1965)
  • The Challenge (1969)
  • The Jesus Generation (1971)
  • How to Be Born Again (1977)
  • The Holy Spirit (1978)
  • A Biblical Standard for Evangelists (1984)
  • Unto the Hills (1986)
  • Answers to Life's Problems (1988)
  • Hope for the Troubled Heart (1991)
  • Storm Warning (1992)
  • Hope for Each Day (2002)
  • Living in God's Love: The New York Crusade (2005)
  • The Journey: How to Live by Faith in an Uncertain World (2007)


  • Has met with 12 U.S. Presidents, the first being Harry Truman and the most recent being Barak Obama.
  • One of Gallup's list of admired people for the 20th Century (ranked #7).
  • Has reached over 2.2 people through radio and television broadcasts.
  • The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has given us the radio show Hour of Decision and the magazine Christianity Today.
  • Billy Graham Rule - to keep from even the impression of wrongdoing, he instituted a rule that he would never be alone with a woman other than his wife, Ruth.
  • Was the first Protestant to receive an honorary degree from Belmont Abbey (a Roman Catholic school).
  • Has received awards from the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the American Jewish Committee.
  • Received the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • Is an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
  • Spoke at the funeral of President Richard Nixon.
  • Presided over the graveside services of President Lyndon Johnson.
  • Inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

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