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Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South

By Steven P. Miller

Publication Year: 2011

While spreading the gospel around the world through his signature crusades, internationally renowned evangelist Billy Graham maintained a visible and controversial presence in his native South, a region that underwent substantial political and economic change in the latter half of the twentieth century. In this period Graham was alternately a desegregating crusader in Alabama, Sunbelt booster in Atlanta, regional apologist in the national press, and southern strategist in the Nixon administration.

Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South considers the critical but underappreciated role of the noted evangelist in the creation of the modern American South. The region experienced two significant related shifts away from its status as what observers and critics called the "Solid South": the end of legalized Jim Crow and the end of Democratic Party dominance. Author Steven P. Miller treats Graham as a serious actor and a powerful symbol in this transition—an evangelist first and foremost, but also a profoundly political figure. In his roles as the nation's most visible evangelist, adviser to political leaders, and a regional spokesperson, Graham influenced many of the developments that drove celebrants and detractors alike to place the South at the vanguard of political, religious, and cultural trends. He forged a path on which white southern moderates could retreat from Jim Crow, while his evangelical critique of white supremacy portended the emergence of "color blind" rhetoric within mainstream conservatism. Through his involvement in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations, as well as his deep social ties in the South, the evangelist influenced the decades-long process of political realignment.

Graham's public life sheds new light on recent southern history in all of its ambiguities, and his social and political ethics complicate conventional understandings of evangelical Christianity in postwar America. Miller's book seeks to reintroduce a familiar figure to the narrative of southern history and, in the process, examine the political and social transitions constitutive of the modern South.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Politics and Culture in Modern America


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pp. v-vi

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Introduction: Billy Graham’s New South

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pp. 1-12

In June 2005, an elderly Billy Graham returned to New York City, five decades after a foundational moment in his evangelistic career, when he had led a crusade that stretched on for four months in that most secular of American locales. This time, stricken with prostate cancer and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease...

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1. "No Segregation at the Altar"

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pp. 13-38

Billy Graham entered the 1950s as a nationally known evangelist who was also an identifiable southerner and a Christian fundamentalist. The following decade saw a struggle—sometimes public, often unstated—between his singular position as an evangelist and the other, seemingly more expendable, labels. ...

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2. Evangelical Universalism in the Post-Brown South

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pp. 39-63

The brand of regional leadership Graham adopted required that he convincingly differentiate himself from leading figures on the southern right. One such person was W. A. Criswell, his pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas. In February 1956, the firebrand Criswell delivered a well-publicized address to a joint session of the South Carolina...

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3. The Politics of Decency

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pp. 64-88

By the close of 1957, Graham had positioned himself in the middle ground between the segregationist right and the integrationist left—that is, somewhere between his nominal pastor, W. A. Criswell, and another Baptist and southerner, Martin Luther King, Jr. ...

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4. "Another Kind of March"

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pp. 89-123

By 1960, Billy Graham’s racial moderation had made him useful, in differing ways, to both Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King, Jr. When the civil rights movement reached a climax during the mid-1960s, President Lyndon Johnson similarly viewed the evangelist as a mediating presence in the South. ...

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5. Billy Graham’s Southern Strategy [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 124-154

Billy Graham’s optimism about the South in the aftermath of landmark civil rights legislation did not extend to the rest of the nation. His concerns about the increasing social and racial chaos in America ultimately dovetailed with the electoral prospects of Richard Nixon. ...

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6. Crusading for the Sunbelt South

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pp. 155-181

While Graham abetted the southern strategy, the southerners he most identified with attempted to project an altogether different image. That image was never as removed from the region’s Jim Crow past, nor as separated from the specter of racial politics, as either Graham or many of his southern crusade supporters preferred to believe. ...

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7. "Before the Water Gate"

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pp. 182-199

Despite tensions in Atlanta and elsewhere, the main domestic issue that dogged Graham by 1973 was not race but the Nixon administration’s Watergate crisis. While the Sunbelt image gained appeal, the president who had done so much to facilitate that image eventually resigned and left office in disgrace. ...

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Epilogue: Billy Graham and American Conservatism

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pp. 200-220

By the early 1980s, Billy Graham had safely entered his third and final stage as an American public figure. The evangelist had begun his career as a fundamentalist, a phase that lasted only as long as he remained a sociopolitical outsider—a firebrand novelty or a sawdusted throwback. ...


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pp. 221-293

Archival and Manuscript Sources

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pp. 295-296


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pp. 297-301


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pp. 303-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206142
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812221794

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Politics and Culture in Modern America