News 12 Then: Looking back at Billy Graham’s Tennessee Valley connections


CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) – Over a 60 year career evangelizing the world, Billy Graham made several stops along the way here in the Tennessee Valley.

But two of them standout.

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The first goes back to his earliest preaching days.

A teenage Billy Graham left North Carolina to attend Bob Jones College (now Lee University) in Cleveland, Tennessee.

He lived at the school, worked in town and attended the local Presbyterian Church.

Cleveland Mayor Tom Roland says Graham preached his first sermon outside his own church in Charleston, Tennessee as a 19 year old student.

In 2008, Cleveland named a street for Graham to honor his early days there.

He could not attend, but he sent his daughter here with instructions to photograph the dorm, the church and the building where he worked during his time in Cleveland.

During the 1950s, Graham’s crusades were popular in Chattanooga.

After an earlier stop that packed Engel Stadium, the city decided to build a new, bigger facility for him.

The Billy Graham Crusade would be the first visitor to the Warner Park Field House built in 1953.

One resident this week explained to me that Memorial Auditorium was rundown at the time and just used for storage.

So while the Crusade was big news for Chattanooga, Graham would make it an historic moment for the entire south.

Up til then, he preached to segregated crowds below the Mason Dixon line.

But for the Chattanooga Crusade, he asked that the ropes dividing black and white should be taken down.

The story goes that when some locals moved to put them back up, the evangelist threatened to leave.

He would never preach to a segregated audience again.

Old Chattanoogans remember that crusade well.

To mark Billy Graham’s 95th birthday, we asked Luther to relive it for us… and of course, he had a story about giving the man of the hour a ride.