Billy Graham honored by General Assembly

Rev. Billy Graham preaching in 1972 Credit: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Rev. Billy Graham preaching in 1972 Credit: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Rev. Billy Graham preaching in 1972
Credit: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

RALEIGH – Amid high-profile budget announcements, analysis and votes, lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly passed two measures this week that ask the Federal Government to honor the Rev. Billy Graham.  Thursday, the Senate unanimously passed a measure to ask a congressional committee to consider putting a statue of the 96-year-old Christian evangelist in the U.S. Capitol.  Each state is allowed to place two statues in the Hall to honor state heroes posthumously.

The House passed the statue bill in April, so it now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory. Meanwhile, on Thursday night the House unanimously passed a resolution that asks the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee at the U.S. Postal Service to honor Graham with a postage stamp.

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.

Congressional rules allow each state to also make changes to their representative statues in Statuary Hall. One of North Carolina’s statues is of Governor Zebulon Vance, but Graham’s would replace the other one, that of N.C. Governor Charles Aycock. Ayock’s name or image has been removed from several buildings and state monuments over the past year out of concern for his historic association with the white supremacy movement.

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.