Decision Magazine is celebrating Billy Graham’s 100th year with a look back on his decades of ministry. In the 1950s, God multiplied opportunities for Billy Graham as he proclaimed the Gospel through radio and television. His Crusades at home and abroad also brought multitudes to faith in Jesus Christ. Here is a look at the 1950s, as published in this February’s Decision Magazine.
On a scorching July 20, 1957, some 100,000 people packed the stands and outfield of Yankee Stadium for what was intended to be the final day of the New York Crusade. Another 20,000 people were turned away. The Crusade had already been extended once, from June 30 to July 20. But seeing the overwhelming hunger for the Gospel, the Crusade committee discussed the possibility of extending the Crusade again. Mr. Graham was physically exhausted from the first six weeks of the Crusade, but he felt no peace about stopping. After much prayer, the committee extended the meetings for as long as Madison Square Garden was available: Labor Day weekend.
From the earliest years of his ministry, Billy Graham worked for racial harmony and equality. In the early 1950s, he insisted on integrated seating at his Crusades in the Southern United States. In 1957, he held rallies in Harlem and Brooklyn in order to reach out to people of color, and he invited black evangelist Howard Jones and later Ralph Bell to join his Team. He developed a warm friendship with Martin Luther King Jr. and strategized privately with him about their respective roles in the civil rights struggle. Some 20 years before the end of apartheid in South Africa, he denounced the racist policy and insisted on integrated meetings during a 1973 Crusade. He consistently cited racial discord as one of the world’s greatest problems, and he emphasized the need for hearts to be spiritually transformed in order for people to love one another.
Mr. Graham talks with a group of young men in Harlem, where several open-air rallies were held during the Madison Square Garden Crusade in 1957. The Harlem rallies were born out of Mr. Graham’s concern that his Crusade audiences were mostly white. When he expressed this to Howard Jones, Jones advised him to take his meetings to Harlem.
The first Hour of Decision radio program aired in November 1950, and continued to proclaim the Gospel for more than six decades on hundreds of radio stations across North America.
In December 1952, Mr. Graham traveled to Korea, speaking to service members and visiting military hospitals in addition to preaching in Korean churches.
During his 1953 Crusade in Chattanooga, when the head usher insisted on segregated seating, Mr. Graham personally tore down the dividing ropes between the races. From then on, all of his Crusades would be integrated.
The Greater London Crusade lasted 12 weeks at Harringay Arena in 1954, with more than 2 million people attending and more than 38,000 making decisions for Jesus Christ.
From May 15 to Sept. 1, 1957, Madison Square Garden saw capacity crowds as New Yorkers flocked to hear the Gospel. In addition to the meetings at the Garden, Mr. Graham held open-air rallies at various locations around the city. In all, more than 61,000 people made commitments to Christ.
The initial plan had been to conclude the New York Crusade June 30. But as crowds continued to fill the Garden, the meetings were extended twice—first to July 20 and then to Sept. 1.
In 1951, BGEA began producing a weekly television program. Although the weekly schedule eventually proved to be too time consuming to continue, BGEA’s television ministry brought the Good News of Jesus Christ to untold millions—and continues to do so today.
With Mr. Graham sometimes away from home for weeks at a time and Ruth staying home with the children, it was a rare treat for the two to have some time together during the New York Crusade.
The family gathers around Ruth in 1958, four days after the birth of youngest son Ned. Left to right: Ruth, Ned, Franklin, Ruth, Gigi, Anne, Billy.
An estimated 30,000 people completely blocked the streets of New York’s financial district during an open-air noontime meeting July 10.