Billy Graham's Los Angeles Crusade
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The Los Angeles Crusade in the fall of 1949 was not Billy Graham's first crusade nor was it his largest, but it was the campaign that launched his career as a full-time evangelist. The surprising success of the revival in Los Angeles turned Graham from one of numerous regionally-prominent evangelists into the spiritual heir apparent to Billy Sunday, the preeminent evangelist of the early 20th century.
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The Los Angeles Crusade in the fall of 1949 was not Billy Graham's first crusade nor was it his largest, but it was the campaign that launched his career as a full-time evangelist. The surprising success of the revival in Los Angeles turned Graham from one of several dozen regionally-prominent evangelists into the spiritual heir apparent to Billy Sunday, the preeminent evangelist of the early 20th century.Graham's time as president of the Youth for Christ (YFC) organization during the mid-1940s paved the way for his later crusades. Graham, along with other preachers including Bob Jones Sr., Jack Wyrtzen, and Torrey Johnson, had sought to evangelize high school and college students during the uncertainty of World War II. YFC combined fervent gospel appeals with American patriotism, a combination that culminated in a 1945 Memorial Day rally at Soldier Field in Chicago attended by 70,000 young people and many recently returned veterans. The ability of Billy Graham to simultaneously preach Jesus and sell war bonds attracted the attention of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who would play an important role in the success of the Los Angeles Crusade four years later.Originally, the Los Angeles Crusade had been scheduled for three weeks in September and October 1949. But when unseasonably cold weather turned warm, the organizers extended the crusade for additional weeks. Soon a radio celebrity named Stuart Hamblen -- one of the pioneers of the country-western tradition of "singing cowboys" -- made a profession of faith. Several more celebrities came to the event and several made professions of salvation, including war hero and Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini. Hamblen's conversion also caught the attention of William Randolph Hearst for the second time. Heart, the owner of multiple national newspapers, told his editors to give special attention to Graham.Hearst particularly approved of Graham's strident anti-communism. The Los Angeles crusade opened only two days after President Harry Truman announced that the Soviet Union had conducted its first test of a nuclear bomb. Cold War fears were peaking and Graham smartly entwined anti-communist rhetoric into his sermons, pronouncing, for example, that "Communism is not only an economic interpretation of life -- communism is a religion that is inspired, directed, and motivated by the Devil himself, who has declared war against Almighty God." In the end, more than 350,000 people attended the crusade during its eight-week run. Millions more read about the success in Hearst's newspapers. Before Los Angeles, Graham had been a rising star among American fundamentalists. After Los Angeles, Graham became a household name. Less than a year later, President Truman invited Graham to visit him at the White House, the first but hardly the last such visit for Graham, who met with every subsequent president through Barack Obama. In 1950, Graham also officially incorporated the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. For the next four decades, he traveled full-time as an evangelist, holding crusades as large as the one in Los Angeles in every major city in the United States, including a highly publicized one in New York City in 1957.
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Graham, William "Billy"
The Fourth Great Awakening
Billy Graham Los Angeles Crusade tent- courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Billy Graham Los Angeles Crusade tent interior- courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Billy Graham portrait- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03261
Martin, William, 1996. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books.
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Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History