3/10/09 - billy graham

In today's excerpt - Billy Graham (b. 1918) came to national prominence in 1949 as part of the national religious revival that followed World War II. His natural audience was displaced southern whites-the great early-to-mid twentieth century diaspora of white southerners away from dwindling rural jobs to the commercial north and west. He received an unexpected and indispensable boost from William Randolph Hearst, whose vast newspaper empire had influenced causes from the Spanish-American War forward:

"Graham first entered the national spotlight in the fall of 1949 during his two-month-long Christ for Greater Los Angeles campaign. The Los Angeles revival holds a firm place in the Graham mythology. He came to Southern California as a representative, if quite successful, preacher following the well-traveled fundamentalist revival circuit. ...

"Graham arrived in Los Angeles toward the start of a well-publicized postwar national religious revival that eventually saw Congress add 'one nation under God' to the Pledge of Allegiance. Churches and synagogues boomed along with the birth rate. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Graham's chosen denomination, saw five hundred new churches built between 1946 and 1949, with the denomination growing by around 300,000 members during the same period. 'Religion-in-general,' in historian Martin E. Marty's famous phrase, gained new credence during the postwar years. 'Our government,' President Dwight Eisenhower flatly declared, 'makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith-and I don't care what it is.' Such reflexive but not self-reflexive 'faith in faith' as Marty also called it, did not inevitably portend a revival of the old-time gospel. Yet it certainly offered an opening for an evangelist claiming that the faith of the fathers could resolve the conundrums of modern man.

"The Christ for Greater Los Angeles campaign took a while to gain steam. The pivotal moment came when newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst ordered his army of editors to 'Puff Graham,' words that Graham supporters have happily recounted almost from the moment their effects first registered. Hearst, ... was likely drawn to the strident anticommunist message of the dynamic young evangelist. ... Word about the lanky young evangelist quickly spread from the headlines of Los Angeles newspapers to the pages of Time, Life, and Newsweek. Graham became a religious media phenomenon to a degree unseen on North American soil since the eighteenth-century peregrinations of English evangelist George Whitefield. The hoopla thrust Graham into a national mainstream from whose current he has rarely strayed since.

"Graham's success in Los Angeles and other areas outside his native South had more to do with his southern background than is initially apparent. In his early career, the evangelist benefited from the continuing migration of white southerners westward and northward in search of industrial jobs. The white southern diaspora, a phenomenon less explored than the related Great Migration of black southerners, left a distinct imprint on twentieth-century American Christianity. The 1949 Los Angeles revival drew strength from the many fundamentalist-inclined 'country preachers' who had moved from Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma to the 'Southland' of California."

Link to Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South


Steve P. Miller


Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South


University of Pennsylvania Press


Copyright 2009 by the University of Pennsylvania Press


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