More than six decades ago, Billy Graham held a peace rally on the east steps of the United States Capitol building to encourage the president to establish a National Day of Prayer. It was a historic moment that had an immediate impact. Within two days, legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives and passed after committee action by unanimous vote. President Harry Truman signed the joint resolution into law in April 1952. Today, 67 years later, Americans will gather for the National Day of Prayer.
Here’s a look back at that momentous peace rally on Feb. 3, 1952:
“THIS is the hour of decision,” Billy Graham implored from the east steps of the United States Capitol building that Sunday. An estimated 40,000 people gathered nearby in spite of the rain to hear his message, while millions tuned in to hear Mr. Graham live on his Hour of Decision radio broadcast.
The rally was a historic event. Mr. Graham’s message marked the first time an evangelistic service had been conducted from the steps of the nation’s Capitol. But America’s Pastor was far more concerned with the significance. It was time to pray. It was time to get real with God.
“Surely a crowd of many thousands gathering beneath the great dome of the Capitol of the United States to pledge their allegiance to Almighty God and petition Him for divine help at this crucial hour, is a most significant event,” Graham said. “To freedom-loving peoples of the world, we are re-affirming our faith in the God of our Fathers … confessing our need of a Savior from our sin … and in humiliation and repentance beseeching Him to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The peace rally was an offshoot of Mr. Graham’s Greater Washington Evangelistic Crusades that were being held just up the street from the Capitol at the National Guard Armory. That Crusade was held from Jan. 13-Feb. 17, 1952, and during that time, Mr. Graham and his team decided to seek permission to preach from the Capitol steps.
The venue was unique, but the concept of urging America to seek God’s face certainly wasn’t new, even for governmental leaders. In 1775, George Washington and the Continental Congress urged the colonies to pray for wisdom regarding the war for independence. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of fasting and prayer a century later during the Civil War.
But this time, on that rainy Feb. 3, Mr. Graham and his team were leading thousands to encourage their elected officials to remember God. The Hour of Decision broadcast ran as usual. George Beverly Shea conducted the choir and Mr. Graham shared a message, this time from Isaiah, urging the crowd to accept God’s gift of salvation. God gave His only Son to take the punishment for our sins, he said, and we aren’t to cheapen that great sacrifice by living our own way, in opposition to Him.
“All you have to do is open your heart and let Christ come in,” Mr. Graham said. “The Bible today tells us ‘Believe on Him, receive Him.’ You say, ‘I already believe.’ But, do you? You’re not living like it.
“Believe on Him, receive Him with all of your heart, make Him Lord and Master and King. … I tell you, in the day of judgment God shall not spare us unless we are in Christ.”