Past Times

Rev. Billy Graham came to Raleigh in 1973. Here are memories of that crusade.

These stories were originally published in 1973, when evangelist Billy Graham held an eight-day crusade in Raleigh and attracted his largest North Carolina crowd to date. About 29,000 people filled Carter Stadium (before it was Carter-Finley) for the Sunday night opening.

N&O writer David Zucchino described the scene:

From Wilmington and Shelby and Raleigh and Garner they came, decked out in their Sunday best to hear the Gospel as told by the son of a dairy farmer.

They converged on Carter Stadium Sunday night like a tornado, bottling up traffic for miles to get a glimpse of Billy Graham in person.

An N.C. State-Carolina football game couldn’t have drawn a more devoted following. The crusade wasn’t supposed to start until 7:30 p.m., but the stadium was already dotted with picnics, blankets and coolers at 5. By 6, the lower decks were almost packed and folks began to scramble to the upper deck to beat the rush.

About halfway up the top deck, in what would’ve been 5-yard line seats for a football game but not a bad place to watch a religious crusade, sat Linn Wakeford, 14, and Cathy Grimes of Raleigh.

They had arrived before 5 p.m., in plenty of time to save a few rows of seats for 60 members of the St. Giles Presbyterian Church, who still hadn’t shown up. Linn and Cathy said they chose the upper deck because the seats had backs on them. They said they wanted to be comfortable.

Down in the lower deck, across the field from where Graham would be preaching in less than an hour, J.T. Knight of Knightdale was talking about his lack of problems.

“No trouble at all getting here,” he said, pointing out toward Blue Ridge Road. “I came in on 64 East, and the Beltline and hardly even slowed down.”

Knight came to the crusade with his wife and his mother-in-law, Mrs. J.F. Keith of Montreat, Graham’s home. Mrs. Keith said she had heard Graham preach in Montreat in 1955, when she had met his wife.

“They’re real nice people,” she recalled.

Rev. Billy Graham during his Raleigh, NC crusade Sept. 24, 1973. News & Observer file photo

Knight agreed. “Every generation has to have an evangelist,” he said. “Graham seems to be the one for this generation. He’s a tremendous Christian, and with his organization and technology, he really comes through. Of course, he just keeps on preaching from a book that’s been talked about for years and years.”

Don Grove of Durham thought Graham did a mighty fine job of spreading organized religion, too. Grove, who sat in the end zone bleachers with his wife, Joan, and their child said Graham reaches a multitude of people that no other man alive could reach.

“Then, too,” he added, “people can come dressed as they are and feel comfortable about it.”

But Grove, like most of the people on hand, was dressed in conventional church clothes. Indeed, the crowd seemed very much a churchgoing group, with business suits and dresses prevalent.

Most were adults – middle-aged and older – accompanied by junior high and high school children. There were comparatively few college students or young adults on hand.

But young or old, they all stood and sang when the chorus opened the night’s festivities and listened intently as Graham’s amplified voice bellowed across the green fields.

Earlier in the evening, however, a man with a crew cut sat quietly with his family on the last row of the lower deck, peering out across the field as if Graham were already speaking.

A friend walked up behind him, ran his knuckles across the top of his companion’s head and asked, “What do you want to go and sit on the back row for?”

“I’m a Baptist,” the man answered. “A true Baptist.” The N&O, 9/24/1973

Earlier in the day, Graham brought his message to the Sunday morning service at Duke Chapel, covered by Ernie Wood:

About 1,500 persons jammed the regular pews, sat on the floor and stood in the doorways of the Duke Chapel. About 200 more overflowed into nearby Page Auditorium and onto the chapel grounds, where loudspeaker systems were set up so worshipers could hear the service inside.

Graham, speaking at Duke for the first time since 1952, refused the university’s regular honorarium, which was given, along with a special offering, to a relief program the Graham organization is running for drought-stricken West Africa.

During the service, a small band of protesters held an “alternative” service on the chapel lawn to protest what they said was Graham’s approval of American policies in Southeast Asia. ...

But the protest seemed to have little effect on the morning service. The N&O 9/24/1973