Video: Graham's last crusade?

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 6/24/2005 8:58:38 PM ET 2005-06-25T00:58:38

NEW YORK — The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham calls himself a simple man of God, approaching death. But he has another distinction: He's been seen in person by more people than any other person alive. New York is his 417th crusade, and he's been calling it his last. It's also a kind of homecoming.

Graham arrives in New York at the age of 86 — returning to the city where he burst onto the public stage in 1957.

"His is a crusade for the soul of the world's greatest city," said announcer Ed Herlihy on a Universal International Newsreel at the time.

Lois Akurst was there for the '57 crusade, and she came back Friday for this last crusade.

"I'm asking you to come tonight and give your life to Christ, whether you understand it all or not," said Graham in 1957.

For 16 weeks, the young preacher from North Carolina filled Madison Square Garden, just as he will fill Flushing Meadows' great lawn Friday night and just as others begin to sum up his public life.

"There were four great lions at the end of the 20th century without whom our history would be different, and worse: Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and Billy Graham," says Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham.

And there is something about Billy Graham that U.S. presidents have found soothing, comforting and reassuring. Graham counseled every one since Truman.

But Graham's instinct has sometimes failed him. His critics mostly cite relations with the Jewish community and civil rights — saying he didn't do enough, while admitting he wasn't alone.

"White Southerners of goodwill did lots of things that they are deeply humiliated by and embarrassed about, even unto this hour," says Meacham.

But Billy Graham also changed the way millions of Americans view and talk to God, because they saw him do it so well.

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