1964 Billy Graham Easter Rally

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Billy Graham speaking at the 1964 Easter Rally
The integrated choir at the 1964 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..

Cliff Barrows directed the combined choirs. Platform guests included Arthur P. Cooke, James L. Ware, John Drew, members of the Birmingham City Council and others.

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."


  1. Bryant-1964
  2. Wirt-1997
  3. Morin-1964
  4. Foscue-1964
  5. "Drennen asks"-1964


External links

Civil Rights Movement (19561965)
Documents Segregation laws · ACMHR Declaration of Principles · Nonviolence pledge · Birmingham Manifesto · A Call For Unity · Appeal for Law and Order · Letter from Birmingham Jail · Birmingham Truce · Civil Rights Act of 1964
Events Freedom Rides · Who Speaks for Birmingham? · Selective Buying Campaign · Birmingham Campaign · Good Friday march · Children's Crusade · Police dogs and firehoses · List of racially-motivated bombings · 1963 church bombing · May 1963 riot
Organizations Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights · Birmingham City Commission · Ku Klux Klan · Miles College · NAACP · Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Activists Fred Shuttlesworth · Martin Luther King Jr · A. D. King · James Bevel · Frank Dukes · Edward Gardner · Lola Hendricks · Colonel Stone Johnson · Autherine Lucy · Vivian Malone · Joseph Lowery · James Orange · Nelson Smith Jr · John Porter · Abraham Woods Jr
Other figures Albert Boutwell · Robert Chambliss · Bull Connor · A. G. Gaston · Art Hanes · Lucius Pitts · Sidney Smyer · J. B. Stoner · "8 white clergymen" · Virgil Ware · "4 little girls"
Places Kelly Ingram Park · A. G. Gaston Motel · Movement churches
Legacy Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail · Birmingham Civil Rights Institute · Birmingham Pledge