Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South

Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South

Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South

Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South

Synopsis

While spreading the gospel around the world through his signature crusades, internationally renowned evangelist Billy Graham maintained a visible and controversial presence in his native South, a region that underwent substantial political and economic change in the latter half of the twentieth century. In this period Graham was alternately a desegregating crusader in Alabama, Sunbelt booster in Atlanta, regional apologist in the national press, and southern strategist in the Nixon administration.

"Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South" considers the critical but underappreciated role of the noted evangelist in the creation of the modern American South. The region experienced two significant related shifts away from its status as what observers and critics called the "Solid South": the end of legalized Jim Crow and the end of Democratic Party dominance. Author Steven P. Miller treats Graham as a serious actor and a powerful symbol in this transition--an evangelist first and foremost, but also a profoundly political figure. In his roles as the nation's most visible evangelist, adviser to political leaders, and a regional spokesperson, Graham influenced many of the developments that drove celebrants and detractors alike to place the South at the vanguard of political, religious, and cultural trends. He forged a path on which white southern moderates could retreat from Jim Crow, while his evangelical critique of white supremacy portended the emergence of "color blind" rhetoric within mainstream conservatism. Through his involvement in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations, as well as his deep social ties in the South, the evangelist influenced the decades-long process of political realignment.

Graham's public life sheds new light on recent southern history in all of its ambiguities, and his social and political ethics complicate conventional understandings of evangelical Christianity in postwar America. Miller's book seeks to reintroduce a familiar figure to the narrative of southern history and, in the process, examine the political and social transitions constitutive of the modern South.

Excerpt

In June 2005, an elderly Billy Graham returned to New York City, five decades after a foundational moment in his evangelistic career, when he had led a crusade that stretched on for four months in that most secular of American locales. This time, stricken with prostate cancer and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, among other health problems, and reliant on a special lectern that allowed him to sit while preaching, the white-haired Graham held only three services during what was billed as his final domestic crusade. Most of the 230,000-plus attendees knew what to expect from this evangelistic lion in winter. Many elements of Graham’s services had remained largely unchanged since the 1950s: the bass-baritone of soloist George Beverley Shea, the volunteer choir and ushers drawn from area churches, the climactic and solemn moment of invitation, and —of course—the presence of celebrities and politicians on the crusade platform. the highest-profile guests in Flushing Meadows were Hillary and Bill Clinton, who feted the evangelist. Standing with Graham at the pulpit, the former president said his admiration for the evangelist had its origins in an integrated Graham rally he had attended as a child in Little Rock, Arkansas. Clinton elaborated on that 1959 service in an interview with the New Yorker: “When he gave the call—amid all the civil-rights trouble, to see blacks and whites coming down the aisle together at the football stadium, which is the scene, of course, of our great football rivalries and all that meant to people in Arkansas—it was an amazing, amazing thing. If you weren’t there, and if you’re not a southerner, and if you didn’t live through it, it’s hard to explain. It made an enormous impression on me.”

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