Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Graham Energized Jacksonville in '61 Many Remember That Rally for Its Inclusion, Spirituality

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Graham Energized Jacksonville in '61 Many Remember That Rally for Its Inclusion, Spirituality

Article excerpt

Byline: Leo Ebersole, Times-Union staff writer

In January 1961, Linda Belton was not allowed to drink from the same water fountain as whites. So the Arlington woman said she was excited when Billy Graham invited blacks and whites to attend a rally together at the new Jacksonville Coliseum that month.

At a time when Jacksonville was still segregated, Graham preached inclusion, having banned segregated seating at his events in 1953. Belton sang on the rally's second day with a choir group from her downtown church, Ebeneezer Methodist.

"I just remember getting on our white blouses and blue skirts and seeing the people come down [to devote themselves to Christ], and I thought it was pretty cool," said Belton, who graduated from high school that year.

Jacksonville residents who, like Belton, attended Graham's rally here 39 years ago remember it for its energy, its inclusion and its spirituality. Many who still live in the area will go to Alltel Stadium when the 81-year-old preacher returns to the city for his crusade Thursday through Nov. 5.

The 1961 rally was a homecoming of sorts for Graham, who attended the Florida Bible Institute and held his first revival in Palatka. Although Graham was not as recognizable as he is now, he was popular. About 13,000 people bunched in to hear Graham speak on the first night and 13,500 attended the second.

"It was very crowded," said Margie Anderson, 79, of Jacksonville. "There were many people standing outside who wanted to get in."

Preparations for Graham's arrival began as early as June 1960 -- planning for this year's event began in late January -- and Graham gave sermons Jan. 14 and 15. He apologized for the lack of seats during the rally, telling the audience it "need not be inside the building for Christ to come into your hearts."

As Graham lectured on devotion and the end of the world, more than 1,000 people came forward in the two days and pledged to accept Christ.

Former mayor Jake Godbold was a member of the city council at the time. He attended the crusade and said the event galvanized the community.

"To me, it's a feeling like your favorite player just hit a home run," Godbold said. …

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