Most newspapers have canned obits of famous people ready to go. When I saw the Rev. Billy Graham was in the hospital several months ago, I remembered that I had shot Billy Graham Day in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 15, 1971. I’d better pull out those files “just in case,” I thought.
As it turned out, the Preacher to the Presidents got better and was released from the hospital. I’m happy to use the occasion of his 93rd birthday today as an excuse to run the photos.
Billy Graham Day and Richard Nixon
Billy Graham Day had several political subplots.
President Richard Nixon had appeared with Graham in Knoxville, TN., in May 1970, the first time a president had spoken on the stage with an evangelist, according to reports I’ve read. The mostly sympathetic audience’s reaction to protestors who showed up gave the President’s re-election team an idea. The Watergate hearings uncovered a plot to plant agents provocateur in the crowd to cause trouble, then have pickup trucks of “cowboys” show up to “let things happen.”
Event figured in Watergate Hearings
Apparently those shenanigans never got beyond the frat boy talking stage, but the “fake ticket” ruse WAS employed. An advance man would demand to see a protestor’s ticket, pronounce it “fake” and have him escorted away.
Nixon beams at crowd
I don’t remember anything about the President’s speech. The paper’s religion writer was along with me to cover the event, so I could concentrate on shooting and not have to worry about taking notes.
Published accounts say that he praised the minister’s family, “Let me just say this, we all think of Billy Graham as a strong man. But as I look at the Graham family, if I am asked who are stronger, Billy Graham or the women in his family, I’ll say the women every time…God made man out of the soft earth but he made woman out of a hard rib – the woman is the stronger of the two.”
Ruth Graham ambivalent
Patricia Daniels Cornwell wrote in Ruth, A Portrait: The story of Ruth Bell Graham that Mrs. Graham had her own private ambivalence about Nixon’s appearance on her husband’s platform. “I think to have [presidents] come and sit in the audience is one thing. To have them speak from the platform is another.”
“What is your affiliation, Young Man”
Bill Williams, editor of The Gastonia Gazette, thought it would be a neat story idea to send the religion writer and me over to Charlotte to the rally on a church bus to get some local flavor.
I had no sooner boarded the bus when a blue-haired, primly attired little old lady accosted me. “What is your affiliation, Young Man? she demanded.
Somewhat taken aback by her tone, but raised to be polite to my elders, I replied, “I’m with The Gastonia Gazette, Mam. Would you like to see my identification?”
“I mean your RELIGIOUS affiliation.”
Looking at me like she would look at her shoe if she sensed that she had just stepped in something unpleasant, and speaking slowly and enunciating clearly because it had just become obvious that everything she had been told about Yankees was true, she gave an audible “sniff” and asked again, “Young man, I mean what is your RELIGIOUS affiliation?”
“Well, Mam, to be honest, despite eight years of parochial schooling, I mostly serve as a bad example.”
She didn’t invite me to sit next to her.
I don’t recall the ride BACK on the bus, either. I think I might have called one of the other photographers to drive the 19 miles over to Charlotte to pick us up. I would have had no problem approving his mileage for THAT trip.
Photo Gallery of Billy Graham Day
Here’s a collection of photos from the Nixon / Graham rally. Click on any photo to maker it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery. Happy Birthday Mr. Graham.