Reader Joan Johnson Culver writes to our Austin Answered project: “I have exhausted research looking for the visit that Billy Graham paid to Austin in the late ’40s or very early ’50s. He preached on the southwest corner of the Capitol grounds across from the governor’s mansion and what was then the old Cook Funeral Home. I was a very young teenager and attended the service and would love to read about it.”
It was not hard to track down reports about the April 27, 1952 revival led by Graham, who died Feb. 21 at age 99. We employed the searchable pre-1978 American-Statesman archives, available on ProQuest for free with an Austin Public Library card.
It appears that the invitation for the event came in Washington D.C. from Texas Attorney General Price Daniel, who was strongly supported by Texas Gov. Allan Shivers. In Austin, these leaders appeared on the platform with Graham along with other dignitaries.
It was a big show. Carpenters set up a choir loft for 500 voices. City electricians ran power lines to Capital grounds at West 11th and Colorado streets. Graham’s “Hour of Decision” radio and TV show was broadcast from that spot. Officials expected a crowd of 50,000, but no post-revival estimate could be found.
One Statesman reporter was impressed by Graham’s advance team.
“Religion to the team is not mournful, but a challenge,” reads the report. “Their talk is full of zip and their clothes are bright. They win people with their enthusiasm and sparkle as well as by their cause which they know can’t be beaten.”
Culver was ecstatic to receive the digital clippings. Back in 1952, she had been a senior at Austin High School and attended West Austin Baptist Church at West 12th and Elm streets. It later moved to West Lake Hills as Park Hills Baptist Church.
“Our youth group was a tight bunch doing everything together and having a wonderful time (even if we didn’t drink or dance),” Culver writes. “So we went as a group to that glorious service on the Capitol grounds to hear the young Rev. Billy Graham preach. I just remember sitting on the grass totally mesmerized by the music, hearing George Beverly Shea sing ‘How Great Thou Art,’ and experiencing the power of Graham’s message. In all the years since then — 66 years now — just hearing his voice or seeing his face would take me back to that 17 year old impacted by his message.”