Six years ago, the state of North Carolina, the United States, and the world lost a giant. Billy Graham, world evangelist and faith leader, represented North Carolina’s best: a man of service, humility, and devout faith. Despite his accomplishments and the millions of miles traveled worldwide for his famous crusades, Graham possessed an admirable humility throughout his entire life. The man raised on a dairy farm outside of Charlotte would soon reach 215 million people face-to-face, a feat considered to be the most ever.

In 2013, Billy Graham was officially named “North Carolina’s Favorite Son.” Despite his fame, he considers himself an ordinary messenger of God. He and his wife Ruth’s quaint cabin in Montreat, North Carolina, was a microcosm for Graham’s feelings toward worldly status and possessions. No amount of notoriety would distract Graham from his service to the Lord and his country.

While Graham was modest about his popularity, he was resolute in his biblical convictions. His early ministry was during the Jim Crow era, a practice Graham saw as incongruent with biblical values. Graham had a special relationship with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., calling him “Little Mike,” just as MLK’s father did. At a crusade in Chattanooga in 1953, after an usher insisted on segregated seating, Graham personally tore down the dividing ropes between the races. He affirmed that “Christianity is not a white man’s religion, and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people; He belongs to the whole world.”

Graham quickly became “America’s Pastor,” granting him unique access to the most powerful man in America: the president. Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy’s 2007 book, “The Preacher and the Presidents,” highlights Graham’s spiritual guidance to 12 US presidents, beginning with Truman and ending with Trump. The book is riddled with anecdotes from conversations in the Oval Office, foreign diplomacy, and leading the country through tragic times such as the Sept. 11 attacks.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, who became the first president to be baptized in the White House, stands out as one of the most receptive presidents to Graham’s spiritual counsel. He once asked Rev. Graham, “Billy, could you explain to me how a person can be sure when he dies, he’s going to heaven?” With the counsel of Billy Graham, Eisenhower created the National Prayer Breakfast in 1953 and established “In God We Trust” as the nation’s official motto in 1956. Eisenhower’s spiritual journey in the White House and the infancy of Billy Graham’s evangelical career took place at a time when it was clear that freedom of religion and democracy were at odds with the specter of communism.

Graham, like Eisenhower, did not shy away from addressing repressive, secular communism that threatened religious liberty.

Graham wrote, “Either communism must die, or Christianity must die.” Despite his antipathy towards communism, Graham would repeatedly bring the gospel to the people of the Soviet bloc. After visiting beyond the Iron Curtain in 1953, he recalled leaving “with a dream, a hope, and a prayer that someday, I, along with others, might proclaim the Gospel throughout” the countries behind the curtain. In 1982 during a trip to the Soviet Union, Graham said, in a subtle attempt to engage with the Kremlin, “We must hope that someday all nations will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of her own conscience.”  

Of the 417 crusades during which he led across the world, 10 would take place in his home state of North Carolina. Graham always returned to his Montreat home to pray, meditate, and write his sermons before leaving for another crusade. For him and his wife, Ruth, it was their place of solace and a forum for private reflection and prayer with the Lord.

Three years prior to his death, the General Assembly announced that the Rev. Billy Graham would be honored with a statue representing North Carolina in the United States Capitol. Zebulon Vance’s statue has resided in Statutory Hall since 1916 for his role as the 37th and 43rd governor of North Carolina. The second statue is for Charles Aycock, whose legacy is tarnished by his blistering speech supporting segregation and the paramilitary “Red Shirts” that carried out the 1898 Wilmington Coup — the only successful coup in United States history.

In 2015, the General Assembly elected to replace Aycock with the Rev. Billy Graham. The statue was set to be completed in 2021 but has faced some hiccups and delays. It is fitting that Graham, a man who preached to all, no matter race or nation, will replace a man representing the darkest period of North Carolina history.

Graham will soon share the halls with America’s immortalized forefathers, like Lincoln, Jefferson, and Madison. Although it will be the first statue of a Protestant preacher, it will join the likes of Father Junipero Serra of California and Father Damian of Hawaii. Franklin Graham, his son and the current president of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, hopes that the statue of Rev. Graham will continue to spread “the Gospel of Jesus Christ and allow the message he preached to be shared with those who visit for many years to come.”

Billy Graham continues to inspire hearts and souls across generations — those old enough to remember attending his rallies, along with younger generations who access his sermons in his archives. His life is a testament to the power of conviction and fearless devotion to the Lord, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.