When Billy Graham conducted a crusade in Atlanta 21 years ago, several African-American clergy boycotted the event, claiming the evangelist ignored black concerns. In October, at Graham's five-day Georgia Dome crusade, African-American participation was obvious, from the makeup of the 12,000-member choir to the platform guests, ushers, counselors, and committee chairpeople.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) made a conscientious effort to include African Americans in the preparations and the program. Those appearing on stage with Graham included former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young; Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, Jr.; and singers Babbie Mason and Andrae Crouch. In fact, the invitation to hold a crusade came from Young as a way to prepare the city spiritually for hosting the 1996 Summer Olympics. Young, former U.S. ambassador to the UN, is cochair of the Olympic Games Committee.
The biggest attraction of the crusade, a Saturday night youth rally that drew 78,000 people, featured the African-American Grammy Award-winning group Take 6 and the integrated DC Talk.
Cameron Alexander, pastor of the 6,000-member Antioch Baptist Church North since 1969, cochaired the event. Graham persuaded Alexander to participate by making a two-hour visit to his church a year ago. In all, more than 1,050 churches representing 46 denominations played a role in planning the crusade in Atlanta, where three out of five residents are African Americans.
Graham has a long commitment to civil rights, including personally removing ropes segregating races at a Jackson, Mississippi, 1952 crusade and inviting Martin Luther King, Jr., to a New York City crusade in 1957. At the Atlanta crusade, Graham repeatedly mentioned his friendship ...1