The North Carolina Museum of History will open a special exhibit to honor the life of Billy Graham Nov. 6, the day before the famed evangelist’s 97th birthday. The exhibit will include memorabilia, displays and multimedia that document his early days as a farm boy in Charlotte, his family life, his friendships with dignitaries and his leadership through national and international crises like 9/11.
From November 2015 through July 2016 the 5,000-square-foot, privately-funded exhibit, “North Carolina’s Favorite Son: Billy Graham and His Remarkable Journey of Faith” (billygraham.org/landing pages/northcarolinamuseumexhibit), will be displayed at the museum in Raleigh.
Graham has been touted as one of the world’s most revered people. Last year marked the 58th time he was voted one of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World” through a Gallup poll.
When N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory visited Billy Graham at his home in 2013, he presented him with his latest title: “North Carolina’s Favorite Son.” The state’s House and Senate each passed subsequent resolutions to officially declare this distinction, as well as to memorialize Graham’s late wife, Ruth Bell Graham.
After the “Favorite Son” designation became official, it became obvious to some state leaders in Raleigh, that there was little in the way of public recognition for Graham. This group went before the museum directors and petitioned to have a display to honor their special native.
“It seemed appropriate to pay homage while he is still living,” said David Bruce, assistant to Billy Graham. “And now, anyone who visits the North Carolina Museum of History will have a chance to see the influence this man from our state has had worldwide.”
Photo from office of Gov. Pat McCrory
Gov. Pat McCrory visited with Billy Graham, center, and his son, Franklin, in Graham's Montreat home in 2013 after recognizing Graham as North Carolina's "Favorite Son."
“They realized there was not very much reflection of our state’s faith element, and that a display about the life of Billy Graham would satisfy much of that,” Bruce explained.
“There are definitely reflections of notable people like politicians, but this adds a missing and very important piece.”
The honor bestowed on Graham is ultimately not to draw attention to the famous preacher, but to make the name of Jesus more famous, Bruce added. “Any great honor Billy Graham receives points to his message, his integrity and his faithfulness. It’s really a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The exhibit has been about a decade in the making according to Tom Phillips, vice president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and executive director of the Billy Graham Library, based in Charlotte. Other than the Billy Graham Library, an exhibit like this has never been done.
“A lot of people go to an historic museum to look at the whole picture of a state’s history. In doing so, North Carolina Museum of History visitors will discover the spiritual history of our state through the lives of Billy and Ruth Graham,” Phillips said.
Each year an estimated 80,000 eighth graders across the state visit the museum. Thousands travel to Raleigh to visit various historical sites and important landmarks, including large numbers of students. The museum’s most recent fiscal year counted 421,184 total visitors.
And like Bruce, Phillips is counting on this exhibit to inspire the next generation of North Carolinians.
He said, “The legislature voted for Billy Graham to be the state’s Favorite Son. Billy Graham is an evangelist. His whole life is the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ for commitment. So, to tell his story, there is no way around the reality of gospel proclamation and invitation.”
“I believe this exhibit will encourage all young people that God has a plan for their lives, and that He can call them to do great things, like He did with Billy Graham,” Phillips added.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to share the spiritual heritage of one man and his wife … and how God can work through one couple totally committed to Him.”
“My prayer is that they will walk away with the understanding that they don’t have to be pastors, missionaries, or world famous evangelists to fulfill God’s call. They can do that wherever God places them,” said Phillips. “People are so busy these days; they don’t stop for much. My prayer is that each visitor can ‘be still’ as they tour the exhibit and that God’s Spirit will break through and change lives.”
There is already talk about taking the display on the road to regional museums, according to Phillips.
Some denominational offices and seminaries have also expressed interest in having some or all of the display visit their facilities in the future.
The museum (ncmuseumofhistory.org) is located at 5 East Edenton Street, across from the State Capitol, in downtown Raleigh. Admission is free, although some special exhibits require a fee.
Possible statue, stamp
McCrory was in Charlotte Oct. 2 to sign a bill, passed by the state House and Senate, to pave the way for a Billy Graham statue to be placed in the National Statuary Hall in Congress.
McCrory signed the bill at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
Congressional guidelines require that a person’s statue for Statuary Hall may only be installed posthumously.
A seven-member panel will be created to pick a sculptor and secure the necessary funds. Another bill that passed in the N.C. House – Billy Graham for Postage Stamp – petitions the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee of the United States Postal Service and the Postmaster General of the United States to issue a commemorative stamp honoring the evangelist.
Unlike placing a statue in the United States Capitol Building, in 2011 postal officials ended the requirement that commemorative stamps cannot feature someone who is still alive.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Allan Blume is the chief editor of the Biblical Recorder.)