Anchor Sunday School Class
by Bob Marsh
BILLY GRAHAM IN JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI
The summer of 1952 in Jackson, Mississippi, was “hot as blazes,” seldom below 85F. Not ideal weather to have an outdoors event, such as a city wide evangelistic crusade. However, most of us were not use to air conditioning anyway, so plans moved forward for the Billy Graham Evangelistic organization to come to Jackson, Mississippi for a four week crusade. His name was quickly becoming known among the Christian communities, especially in the South, and Jackson wanted to get in on the action. Whatever the motives were among the sponsoring churches, the announcement of his coming was met with excitement and a cooperative spirit of intense preparation. I had just come home to Jackson from my first year at Baylor University, and along with a host of friends, volunteered for help in the counseling ministry. All was moving in good order in preparing for a city wide evangelistic crusade. Churches were coming together, finances were being raised, and it would be difficult for anyone not to know that AN EVANGELISTIC CRUSADE, BILLY GRAHAM, was coming.
Then the inevitable exploded. “What to do about the “Blacks” who had expressed an interest in attending the crusade, and had in fact begun preparations to participate. Actually, the white ecclesiastical establishment had barely anticipated such a conundrum, most of the sponsoring churches were staunch segregationist, would have deacons at the doors of their churches to make certain no “trouble makers” came in to worship. (Blacks) In case you missed it, this was 1952, fourteen years before GOD’S LONG SUMMER, MISSISSIPPI BURNING, and the OLE MISS FIASCO, and Governor Ross Barnett’s disingenuous diatribe at the half-time of the Ole Miss Kentucky football game. Jackson was the epicenter of the birth of CITIZEN’S COUNCILS, KKK in suits. If you did not experience those days of raw racism and spiritual stupidity, you then have no idea how difficult it was for Billy Graham to stare down the racist clothed in ecclesiastical garments and declare “there will be no one excluded from these meetings, regardless of race.” Wham!!! We never ever thought of any other way to have an evangelistic crusade in Jackson, MS than one in which the “Blacks” would stay at home, and let the good white Christians of Jackson “reach lost souls for Jesus,” as long as they white. Billy Graham and his team were kind, gracious, but adamant: there will be a welcome for all races to attend the crusade in the Tiger Stadium at Bailey Junior High.
Our African American friends came, they sang, they prayed, many came forward to confess Christ. In fact, the first person I counseled was a young African American woman named “Queen Esther.” Story behind that name is lovely, but a subject for another day.
The crusade that was to be for four weeks went on for eight weeks, because of the intense interest, the amazing increase in attendance, the many decisions being made, but also for the love and grace that we all felt being poured out in Tiger Stadium. I cannot vouch for subsequent racial attitudes and actions in Jackson, for I soon returned to Baylor, but what I do know is that Jackson was never able to ignore the fact that In Christ there is a common bond for unity, peace, and love. Billy Graham, at the least, made us re-examine our racial attitudes in light of the true gospel, and strive to be honest when we announce “whosoever will may come.” Those who today are pitifully pontificating that “he did not do enough,” have absolutely no clue as to how much in fact he did do to challenge the Body of Christ to demand integrity in declaring that GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD, and that of course excludes no one. Thanks Billy Graham for helping a Baylor ministerial student begin to take seriously that the gospel of Jesus Christ declares AMAZING GRACE FOR EVERY RACE. Amen!