CHARLOTTE – Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill into law Friday that paves the way for a statue of the Christian evangelist to stand in the U.S. Capitol in Washington. McCrory traveled to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte to sign House Bill 540, which requests that a Congressional committee allow North Carolina to honor the 96-year-old Christian evangelist.
“This is a great day in North Carolina. This is a great day in Charlotte. This is a great day for the nation and the world to recognize such a great man: a man of God, a man of compassion, and a man of peace,” McCrory said after signing the bill.
Among those at the event were members of the Graham family, including his son Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and of Samaritan’s Purse.
Each state is allowed to place two statues in the Capitol to honor state heroes posthumously. Congressional rules also permit each state to make changes to their statues. One of North Carolina’s statues is of Gov. Zebulon Vance, but Graham’s would replace the other one, that of Gov. Charles Aycock. Ayock’s name or image has been removed from several buildings and state monuments over the past years out of concern for his historic association with the white supremacy movement.
Graham was born in Charlotte and now lives in Montreat, N.C., where millions of letters and prayer requests pour in from Christians worldwide each year. He served as a spiritual adviser to several U.S. presidents, including Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan. Graham built one of the largest ministries in history, preaching in revival meetings, on radio, on television or online for almost 60 years. The state House also passed a resolution that asks the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee at the U.S. Postal Service to honor Graham with a postage stamp, but the Senate took no action on the bill.
Aycock was the state’s first 20th Century governor and an advocate for public schools. He was also the face of a movement that launched one of the most overtly racist political campaigns in U.S. history, ushering in the era of Jim Crow laws and one-party rule. Aycock was one of the leaders of the successful strategy to break the “Fusion” of black Republicans and poor white farmers that was in control in Raleigh. His name was sacrosanct in state Democratic circles until recently. In 2011, the party removed his name from its main fundraiser, which had been called the “Vance-Aycock Dinner” for decades.
Historians differ on whether Aycock was truly as racist as the policies he championed, or was merely a tool of powerful men such as U.S. Sen. Furnifold Simmons and Josephus Daniels, publisher of the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper. Simmons, chairman of the party, and Daniels, a member of the executive committee, were architects of the white supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900 that put Democrats back in power in the state for nearly a century.
A statue of Daniels stands in Raleigh’s Nash Square, and a Wake County middle school is named in his honor.