PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Organizers of the Greater Philadelphia Billy Graham Crusade remember well his visit in 1992. They say it was a rich experience, bringing in African-American ministers for the first time.
Rev. William Moore, pastor at Tenth Memorial Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, was co-chair of that Billy Graham Crusade.
“This was really a groundbreaking experience,” Moore said, “because it was the first time we met together across racial lines, and across various ethnic persuasions and congregations.’
Attorney Nelson Diaz, a former judge and former Philadelphia city solicitor, was another co-chair, recalling Graham drew more than 250,000 people to Veterans Stadium over four days.
“He was non-judgemental,” Diaz said, “and very open to all.”
Judge Diaz recalls he inadvertently disclosed to a reporter for the first time that Graham, whom he called “America’s Pastor,” suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. He wrote a letter of apology.
“Billy sends me back a wonderful letter, which I carry with me everyday,” Diaz said. “It says, ‘Nelson, it is important that you did that. It was the right timing. Now, I have a lot of people praying for me.'”
At the Vet one night, former Eagles great Reggie White was scheduled to give testimony to the crowd, but he was told moments before he took the stage that his teammate, Jerome Brown, had just died in a car accident.
‘Tonight, I planned on sharing my testimony, but it’s been altered,” White told the crowd. “Today, I lost a great friend. Philadelphia lost a great player. Jerome Brown died today.”
Rev. Moore recalls Graham looking to White, the NFL Hall of Famer, and providing comfort.
“He said let me pray for you,” he said. “It was very touching.”
Moore recalls Graham going to Camden with them to view the “My Brothers’ Keeper” drug program. He listened to clients, including one who was jailed for five years by then Judge Diaz.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Moore said. “The man raised his hand and said ‘Judge Diaz, you don’t remember me, but I remember you, but you saved my life, because you locked me up.'”
Moore says Graham was grateful to share the experience of how people were “remaking their lives.”
For Pastor K. Marshall Williams Sr. it feels like he’s lost a friend and spiritual mentor.
Williams has followed Graham’s teachings since he was just a teenager.
“I use to listen to him on TV, I attended one of his crusades,” said Williams.
Pastor Williams distinctly remembers hosting the “My Hope” initiative a few years ago at his church–Nazarene Baptist on Cheltenham Avenue. The evangelistic video program features powerful messages from Billy Graham, meant to inspire and spread the gospel.
Graham who preached to an estimated 215 million in 185 countries around the world during his lifetime was also known for his stance during the segregation movement– fighting for equality both inside and outside of the church.
Pastor Williams recalls an example from the late 50’s where Graham demanded a crusade that divided blacks and whites be inclusive of everyone.
“He said we’re not gonna have no segregated crusades here,” recalled Williams. “Billy came down and took the rope down saying we will never have a crusade where men and women black white red or green will be separated.”