The open wounds of Alabama’s continuing social conflict received the healing balm of the Gospel during recent appearances in the state by evangelist Billy Graham—and there was evidence that in the communities he visited during a four-day tour, definite results were achieved. Leaders of both races told him: “We believe this will mark the beginning of a new day in our community.”
Graham announced at the outset that he had come, not to preach about racial problems, but to “preach the same Gospel I have preached all over the world.”
But he did indicate that outside his public meetings he wanted to talk with leaders of both races about the problems that have recently brought the state to the world’s attention. Graham told a reporter: “It is wrong for people in other parts of the country to point an accusing self-righteous finger at Alabama. To single out one state as a whipping boy often becomes just a diversion to direct attention from other areas where the problem is just as acute.”
Still some Alabamans accused him of coming “as President Johnson’s personal ambassador to soothe the feelings which Martin Luther King has ruffled.” (The announcement from Graham’s office that he had accepted invitations to preach in Alabama had coincided with a social visit by the Grahams to the White House, where they are occasionally invited guests.)
But that this did not reflect majority sentiment was borne out by the fact that he received more than thirty invitations from all sections of the state when he first announced his itinerary. Since he had canceled a number of private meetings in Great Britain to accept the first invitations, aides said it was impossible to accept others.
On the day Graham arrived in Dothan, a city of about 38,000 in the southeast corner of the state, he was greeted by an editorial in the Dothan Eagle which commented that “there exists something less than unanimity of opinion regarding the timing of his visit” and an ad signed by the president of the White Citizens Council deploring the fact that “Dr. Graham could be invited to Dothan only at this particular time.” But a unanimous invitation had been extended by both the white and Negro ministerial groups, working together.
Despite rampant rumors that preceded the opening meeting on Saturday night, April 24—including one of a bomb threat—Rip Hewes Stadium was half-filled with 5,500. The choir of 400 voices, about half Negro, sang with George Beverly Shea, and when Graham arose to speak all feelings of tension vanished as the presence of God was felt in the stadium. In response to the invitation, almost 250 of both races stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the platform to register decisions for Jesus Christ.
Wallace Malone, a local financial power and vice-chairman of the Houston County (Dothan) Citizens Council, said it was a “great service” and requested a meeting with Graham. He told a reporter, “I am sure Dr. Graham did not come here to stir up trouble, and he did preach the Gospel. Dr. Graham is a great preacher and our kind of man.”
The word of the meeting spread, and those who had adopted a “wait-and-see” attitude were prepared to jam the stadium for the closing meeting Sunday afternoon. Heavy rains fell, and Graham decided to hold a short service under the stands. Three thousand people were packed tightly under the dripping stands when the meeting started, with others spilling out the entrances and an estimated 1,000 still in their cars. Scores of hands were raised in response to the invitation to receive Christ.
Graham then dashed to a television station for a hurriedly arranged thirty-minute program to speak to the thousands who couldn’t make it to the stadium. Few would deny that the Gospel had worked miracles in the Wiregrass area.
Among the comments was one by the Rev. Clayton Bell, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, who said: “This was the first time in this city that a totally open meeting of this type was held where both Negroes and whites were free to come and sit where they pleased.… Not only was there no conflict, but a genuine spirit of love and fellowship … captivated the hearts of those present.”
The reports of the Dothan meetings in the state press laid to rest any doubts about why Billy Graham was in Alabama. Unpretentiously, the Gospel was already having its therapeutic effect. On Monday morning in Montgomery, Graham met with a bi-racial committee of thirty to plan for his crusade in the state capital June 13–20.
The next meeting was at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Monday night. Graham was there at the invitation of President Frank Rose and the Student Government Association. Despite threatening weather all day, the decision was made not to move the meeting from Denny Stadium, where Alabama’s Crimson Tide rolled to the national football championship last year.
According to head football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, nearly 15,000 people filled the west stands. They came prepared for the weather, and when the first sprinkles fell at the beginning of the meeting, umbrellas blossomed like daffodils. No one left. Coach Bryant’s star quarterback, Steve Sloan, read the Scripture from John 3. But when Graham was about five minutes into his sermon, a torrential rain started to fall, making continuation of the service impossible. However, the people of Tuscaloosa—where the Ku Klux Klan has a headquarters—had made their point, 15,000 strong.
The next day fair weather favored the team, and an estimated 16,000 people came out to hear Graham at Auburn University at a 10:00 A.M. meeting. Although the invitation had come from President Ralph B. Draughon, preparatory meetings were held with bi-racial groups because of community participation. Many businesses closed from ten o’clock till noon, the university dismissed classes, and schools excused pupils.
At a luncheon with business, civic, and religious leaders of both races, Graham said that he is convinced the image of Alabama outside the state and abroad is erroneous. He said the image is not so good as some say, but certainly not so bad as others say. He told the group he is encouraged by what he has seen and heard and what Negro leaders have told him about race relations.
Tuskegee Institute, a Negro college forty miles from Montgomery, was his next and final stop. Here the audience, estimated at 10,000, was overwhelmingly Negro, but whites were scattered throughout.
On the platform were many leaders in the white community, and some of the members of choirs from white churches had volunteered to sing with the institute choir.
And so the Alabama tour—phase one—ended. Billy Graham had won the hearts of the people of Alabama. And if his eagerness to return in June for the crusade in Montgomery was any indication, the people of Alabama had also won the heart of Billy Graham.
The ordination of a deaconess, Mrs. Phyllis Edwards, to Holy Orders was postponed pending a study by the Episcopal House of Bishops in September. Mrs. Edwards, 48, is a widow and mother of four grown children. Strongest opposition to her ordination has come from the Anglo-Catholic wing of the church.
Roman Catholics in the United States totaled 45,640,619 as of January 1, according to the 1965 Official Catholic Directory. The figure marks an increase of 766,248 over the previous year. A 7 per cent rise in the number of Catholic marriages was recorded, but total infant baptisms fell slightly.
The Assemblies of God plans to open a childcare agency in Kansas City, Missouri, this fall. It will be housed in a refurbished mansion and will be designed to serve as many as 100 children.
“Our church will have to change its position on cigarette smoking,” says a report issued by the Commission on Social Action of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The commission concedes that the church did not condemn moderate use of cigarettes in the past on the basis of “good theology.” Citing recent research, however, the committee’s report urges Christians to refrain from smoking cigarettes and to urge others to quit.
The Turkish government threatened last month to deport the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate. Officials announced they would make a detailed inspection of the patriarchate’s finances. The Turkish radio, however, denied reports that the patriarchate was being persecuted.
Dr. Johannes Christiaan Hoekendijk was named professor of missions at Union Theological Seminary, New York. Dr. Hoekendijk, a former secretary for evangelism of the World Council of Churches, has been on the faculty of the University of Utrecht since 1953.
Dr. Robert L. Calhoun, professor of historical theology at Yale Divinity School, will retire June 30.
The Rev. E. L. Homewood, managing editor of the United Church (of Canada) Observer, was elected president of Associated Church Press.
Bishop Richard C. Raines was chosen president-elect of the Methodist Council of Bishops. He will assume the presidency for a one-year term in April of 1966.
Dr. Richard Pacini was elected president of the United Presbyterian Board of National Missions for a one-year term. Pacini is pastor of Fairmount Presbyterian Church, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
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