1964 Billy Graham Easter Rally
Evangelist Billy Graham's 1964 Easter Rally or United Evangelistic Rally was held at Legion Field on Easter Sunday, March 29, 1964. By that time, evangelist Billy Graham was already known worldwide, and had come to support the Civil Rights Movement, even contributing funds toward Martin Luther King Jr's bail from Birmingham City Jail the previous Spring. Graham's national crusade that year broke down persistent barriers of segregation by requiring that venues be open to all races without separate seating. His actions won admiration among Birmingham's black ministers.
The Jefferson County Citizens Council and United Americans for Conservative Government formally protested the event, saying that "the planned integrated meeting at Legion Field is provocative in itself and doubly so in the face of agitation threats...we ask that you not allow use of city facilities for the proposed integrated meeting and to use every means available to stop King and followers"1.. The City Council did not agree to the requests to cancel the event. Graham reported later that the Ku Klux Klan had removed and vandalized signs publicizing the rally.
The crowd of 35,000 was about evenly split between whites and blacks. It was reported to be the "largest integrated audience in the state's history." Anticipating the potential of violent protests, police heavily patrolled the streets around Legion Field. Birmingham police, Alabama State Troopers and plainclothes officers surrounded the field, spaced about 10 feet apart on the track. Meanwhile, Graham delivered a sermon on "The Great Reconciliation", focusing on hope for the resurrection of Christ:
It is a wonderful thing to gather together like this in the city of Birmingham, in the name of Jesus Christ, on Easter Day. Somehow all our problems and difficulties seem not quite so great when we stand at the foot of the cross and hear Him say, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do'"2..
Event staff counted 4,000 individuals who answered Graham's concluding invitation to accept Christ as savior. The national press, typified by Associated Press reporter Belman Morin, reported the peaceful event as evidence of Birmingham moving beyond the days of violent conflict over integration3.. Council member Nina Miglionico noted that the success of the event as "indicative the city is willing to look at a problem and move ahead," despite pressure from reactionary groups4.. Fellow councilor Alan Drennen counted the apparent lessening of racial tensions on that Sunday as perhaps the most significant event (or rather, non-event) of the year5..
Graham remained in the city that afternoon to broadcast his "Hour of Decision" radio program. In that forum, he explained that, "The racial problem is not limited to Birmingham, Alabama. As long as men continues in his sins, there is no hope for solving our political and social problems."
- "Drennen asks"-1964
- "Won't cancel Graham— City denies Negro parade request" (March 17, 1964) Birmingham Post-Herald via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Bryant, Ted (March 19, 1964) "Negro Religious Group Denied Parade Permit" The Birmingham News via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Foscue, Lillian (April 3, 1964) "City Councilwoman Lauds City Progress" Birmingham Post-Herald via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Morin, Belman (June 12, 1964) "'A bright spot'— Birmingham: A year later" Associated Press/The Birmingham News via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- "Drennen asks police raise, veto and school bond issue" (December 30, 1964) The Birmingham News via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Martin, William (1991) A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story. New York: William Morrow
- Wirt, Sherwood Eliot (1997) Billy: A Personal Look at the World's Best Loved Evangelist. Crossway Books.
- Miller, Steven P. (Winter 2007) "'Another Kind of March': Billy Graham in Civil Rights Era Alabama." Alabama Heritage. No. 83, p. 41-48
- Gray, Jeremy (March 20, 2014) "Easter Sunday 1964, Billy Graham brought message of hope to integrated audience at Birmingham's Legion Field." The Birmingham News
- 1964 Easter Rally video on YouTube.com
- video of Graham discussing the event on WIS-TV, via the University of South Carolina's Moving Image Research Collections
- Billy Graham Breaks Racial Barriers at billygraham.org