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The 'Jackie Robinson' of Evangelism

When Howard Jones broke the race barrier on Billy Graham's platform, he faced rejection from both sides.
1998This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

If Billy Graham is the paragon of evangelical Christianity in America, then Howard Owen Jones is the "Jackie Robinson" of American evangelicalism. Jones has learned that there is a mixed blessing that comes with being the first African American to realize some key achievement in this nation. On the one hand, it is a high honor to overcome a barrier that has long kept blacks on an unequal footing with whites. But there is also the pain of living with the often unfriendly fallout of being a pioneer in the fragile chronicle of racial progress in America.

"It's an awareness that you're a living test, a human experiment," the evangelist explains. "It's knowing that your every word, your every action, has the potential to either make or break the hopes of your race."

Jackie Robinson knew this angst when he became the first African American to break the color barrier in major-league baseball in 1947. Martin Luther King, Jr., felt it when he led the American civil-rights movement in the sixties. And Howard Jones experienced it when, in 1957, he became the first black preacher to join evangelist Billy Graham's crusade team.

Last year marked the fortieth anniversary of Jones's important breakthrough. It did not receive the same media fanfare as the 50-year observance of Jackie Robinson's symbolic accomplishment, but in a day when racial reconciliation was not a buzzword in the Christian lexicon and when Martin Luther King had not yet reached the zenith of his national fame, Jones was going where no black man had gone before.

TO AFRICA AND HARLEM If Howard Jones had had his way 60 years ago, he would not have been the first black preacher to hold rallies in Africa or the first African-American associate to join Graham's crusade team. ...

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