World-famous evangelist Billy Graham has held four crusades in Georgia—one in Augusta, in 1948, and three in Atlanta, in 1950, 1973, and 1994. Each of these large revivals drew thousands of people from across the South.

Billy Graham
Billy Graham

Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Graham grew up on a dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1939 he was ordained by a church in the Southern Baptist Convention and went on to attend the Florida Bible Institute (later Trinity College) in Trinity, Florida. After becoming active in the ministerial organization Youth for Christ and leading increasingly popular evangelical missions, he founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950.

That same year Graham brought his crusade to Atlanta for the first time. The six-week revival was held at Ponce de Leon Ballpark (then home to the minor-league baseball team the Atlanta Crackers) and lasted from October to December. Graham’s opening service on Sunday, October 29, drew an estimated 25,000 people, the largest crowd that had ever assembled to hear him preach. (Earlier that year, a crowd of 17,000 heard him speak in Portland, Oregon.) Graham later credited the 1950 Atlanta crusade with teaching him a lesson that helped to keep his ministry largely above financial reproach, while other evangelists experienced scandals: a picture of a grinning Graham appeared next to a photograph of ushers handling bags of money collected from services in the ballpark. “I said, 'That’ll never happen again,'” Graham recalled in a 1992 interview. From that time, he said, he never accepted another “love offering” but assembled a board of businessmen to oversee his ministry and put himself and his staff on salary.

Peachtree Arcade
Peachtree Arcade

Courtesy of Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In 1966 Graham contacted local officials and clergymen in Americus to solicit their help in organizing an evangelistic outreach program for the city. Community members objected to Graham’s stipulation that the meetings be integrated, however, and none stepped forward to sponsor the program. Graham was prepared to cancel his plans when Jimmy Carter, then a state senator, volunteered to help. Because local churches refused to allow an integrated film screening, Carter arranged to host the program in the basement of an abandoned school building. According to Graham, Carter later reported that no fewer than 565 people attended the film screening.

Carter and Graham
Carter and Graham

Courtesy of Georgia Archives.

In 1973 Graham returned to Atlanta for a six-night crusade at AtlantaFulton County Stadium, which drew nightly audiences of between 35,000 and 44,000 people. The civil rights leaders Ralph David Abernathy and Hosea Williams urged Black congregants to boycott the Graham crusade, and picketers, charging Graham with racism because of his refusal to affirm the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1972 banning of the death penalty, protested at the stadium. But the Reverend Martin Luther King Sr. sat on the platform with Graham and led a prayer one night. When Graham again took the pulpit in Atlanta for his 1994 services, Atlantans turned out in record numbers. The five evening meetings, held in the Georgia Dome in late October, attracted an estimated 311,000 people.

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Billy Graham

Billy Graham

Renowned evangelist Billy Graham, pictured in 1966, first brought his crusade to Georgia in 1948, when he visited Augusta. He returned to Georgia in 1950, drawing 25,000 people to his crusade at Ponce de Leon Ballpark in Atlanta. Later crusades in Atlanta were held in 1973 and 1994, attracting crowds of approximately 40,000 and 300,000 respectively.

Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Carter and Graham

Carter and Graham

Billy Graham (fourth from left) attends a prayer breakfast in Atlanta with Georgia governor Jimmy Carter (second from left) in the early 1970s. State representative Dorsey Matthews stands between Carter and Graham.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, #ful0088.

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Peachtree Arcade

Peachtree Arcade

Evangelist minister Billy Graham holds a noon prayer meeting at the Peachtree Arcade in Atlanta during his six-week crusade to the city in 1950. The arcade, built in 1916-17, is an example of the Beaux-Arts style of architecture popular during the late Victorian period. It was designed by A. Ten Eyck Brown, a prominent Atlanta architect.