Question: What is the significance of Billy Graham being placed in the Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol?
By act of Congress in 1864, each state in the United States is eligible to have a statue of two of its deceased citizens deemed worthy of this great honor. As states were added to the union, overcrowding became a problem. So, beginning in 1933, each state was allotted one statue in Statuary Hall and one other statue that would “be given prominent locations in designated areas of the Capitol.”
Also, states could replace a statue with another deceased citizen deemed more worthy. This is what happened in the case of Billy Graham. Dr. Graham was not eligible until his homegoing in his 100th year in 2018. Within a few months of his death, the North Carolina legislature began the process of replacing Governor Charles Brantley Aycock with Billy Graham, a process now completed, and the Billy Graham statue is being sculpted as you read this column.
Who was Charles Brantley Aycock? This is where the story gets really interesting — and encouraging. Gov. Charles Aycock was a North Carolina politician, best known today for instigating and leading a race riot in 1896 in order to violently overthrow a duly elected black majority local government. It is hard to imagine why Gov. Aycock’s statue was still in Statuary Hall in the first place.
In any event, how encouraging that he is now being replaced by Billy Graham, perhaps the greatest Christian evangelist since the Apostle Paul. Dr. Graham’s statue will depict him as he was in the 1960s, Bible in hand, preaching the Gospel of his Savior.
Few men have known the personal fame and adulation that Billy Graham experienced, but he remained an incredibly humble man his entire life according to those who knew him best. His son Franklin Graham responded to the news by saying, “My father would be very pleased that people thought of him this way, but he would want people to give God the glory and not himself.”
And that is so true. The Billy Graham Library (documenting his incredible life and ministry) is Charlotte’s number one tourist attraction. And the library does fulfill Billy Graham’s goal that it might “magnify Jesus,” not Billy Graham.
It often amused me to hear people say in Billy’s later years, “Who will be the next Billy Graham?” My answer always was, “What makes you think we will get another one? It took us two millennia to get the first Billy Graham — a boy born and raised on a dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina that God empowered to preach Jesus to more people than anyone ever has.” Back to the significance of Statuary Hall. Billy Graham is replacing an infamous segregationist. How fitting that is. And, Billy Graham was one of the pioneers for racial equality in America. He and Martin Luther King Jr. became great friends through the years until Dr. King’s tragic assassination in 1968. Both were Baptist ministers and both were committed to bringing about racial reconciliation both in America and in their native South.
In 1953, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was holding a crusade in Chattanooga, TN. Dr. Graham had made a point that his crusades would always be integrated. When ushers put up ropes to segregate the audience, Graham told the head usher to take down the ropes, and when the usher refused, Billy Graham took them down himself. When the ushers threatened to put them back up again, Dr. Graham informed them, “Either these ropes stay down or you can go on and have the revival without me.” That was a courageous stand in 1953. But Billy Graham always knew what the Bible said, and he knew it condemned racism from Genesis to Revelation, and he was not going to compromise his crusades or the name of Jesus.
In the interest of full disclosure, I had the opportunity to visit with Billy Graham four times. In the first such meeting in 1972, when we were both back stage of the Southern Baptist Convention waiting to speak, I had the chance to thank him for leading the crusade in which my father made a confession of faith in Jesus as his Savior in Houston in 1953. He was always gracious, polite, and clearly “on fire” for Jesus. I had the privilege of attending his funeral, and the most memorable part of that funeral to me, and by observation and from sharing, clearly for many others as well, was when one of his daughters gave her tribute to her father. She explained that she got married young. She had to leave the marriage because it was an abusive relationship. She had young children. She wanted to be married again, and she met a man whom she thought would be her husband. Both of her parents counseled her to go slowly and make certain before moving into a second marriage. She disregarded their advice and got married, and she had to flee months later for her safety. With her small children she had nowhere else to go but to go home to her parents. Then, as an aside to the audience, she said, “You women in the audience know that you never want to embarrass your father, and when your father is Billy Graham. . . .” So she was driving home to Montreat and taking the long winding road up the hillside to her parents’ home, wondering what her reception would be. Were they going to say, “Well, we told you.” Then she pulled into the side of the house, and there in the circular drive was her dad waiting for her. As she pulled up and got out of the car, he gave her a big bear hug and said, “Welcome home,” thus proving to all of us that he was what we thought he was — a man of God — demonstrating the way God greets us whatever has transpired.
Dr. Richard Land, BA (magna cum laude), Princeton; D.Phil. Oxford; and Th.M., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) and has served since 2013 as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Land has been teaching, writing, and speaking on moral and ethical issues for the last half century in addition to pastoring several churches.