William Franklin "Billy" Graham Jr., KBE (born November 7, 1918) is an American evangelical Christian evangelist, ordained as a Southern Baptist minister, who rose to celebrity status in 1949 reaching a core constituency of middle-class, moderately conservative Protestants. He held large indoor and outdoor rallies; sermons were broadcast on radio and television, some still being re-broadcast today.
Graham was a spiritual adviser to several American presidents; he was particularly close to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson (who was considered to be one of Graham's closest friends) and Richard Nixon. He insisted on integration for his revivals and crusades in 1953 and invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to preach jointly at a revival in New York City in 1957. Graham bailed King out of jail in the 1960s when King was arrested in demonstrations.
Graham operates a variety of media and publishing outlets. According to his staff, more than 3.2 million people have responded to the invitation at Billy Graham Crusades to "accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior". As of 2008, Graham's estimated lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts, topped 2.2 billion.
Graham has repeatedly been on Gallup's list of most admired men and women. He has appeared on the list 55 times since 1955 (including 49 consecutive years), more than any other individual in the world. Grant Wacker reports:
- By the middle 1960s, he had become the "Great Legitimator". ...His presence conferred sanctity on events, authority on presidents, acceptability on wars, desirability on decency, [and] shame on indecency....By the middle 1970s, many deemed him "America's pastor".
By Dean Hanley
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