RALEIGH, N.C. (BP) — The North Carolina Museum of History will open a special exhibit to honor the life of Billy Graham on Nov. 6, the day before the famed evangelist’s 97th birthday.
The exhibit will include memorabilia, displays and multimedia documenting his early days as the son of a dairy farmer, his family life, his friendships with dignitaries and his leadership through national and international crises like 9/11.
The 5,000-square-foot privately-funded exhibit, “North Carolina’s Favorite Son: Billy Graham and His Remarkable Journey of Faith,” will be at the museum in Raleigh, the state capital, through July 2016.
Graham was voted one of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World” last year for an unparalleled 58th time in Gallup polling. He was presented with the title “North Carolina’s Favorite Son” when North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory visited the evangelist in his Montreat home in 2013. The state’s Senate and House of Representatives each passed subsequent resolutions to officially declare the distinction as well as to memorialize Graham’s late wife, Ruth Bell Graham.
After the “Favorite Son” designation became official, it became a concern among some state leaders that there was little in the way of public recognition for Graham, so a group went before museum directors and petitioned for a display to honor their special native.
“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,” said David Bruce, assistant to Billy Graham. “There are definitely reflections of notable people like politicians [at the museum], but this adds a missing and very important piece.”
It seemed appropriate to honor Graham while he is still living, Bruce said. “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.”
The Graham exhibit ultimately is not about drawing 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.”
Other than the Billy Graham Library, an exhibit like this has never been done, said Tom Phillips, vice president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which has developed the exhibit.
“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,” said Phillips, who also serves as executive director of the Graham library in Charlotte.
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 counted 421,184 total visitors in its most recent fiscal year.
Phillips is counting on the exhibit to inspire the next generation of North Carolinians.
“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,” Phillips said. “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 said.
“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,” he said. “My prayer is that [museum visitors] 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.”
According to BGEA, the North Carolina’s Favorite Son exhibit will include:
— The evangelist’s early life and ministry along with Billy and Ruth Graham’s family times at their home in the Blue Ridge Mountains — and fun facts about his favorite things in North Carolina.
— A look at each of Graham’s 12 North Carolina crusades and other evangelistic campaigns such as Los Angeles in 1949; London, 1954; New York City, 1957; and South Africa, 1973. The exhibit also will showcase large murals depicting the scope of attendance at crusades held around the world.
— Never-before-exhibited items such as the American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in honor of Ruth and Billy Graham’s 50th wedding anniversary; the miniature dictation machine Graham used in sermon preparation; the tuxedo Graham wore when he was knighted at the British Embassy in 2001.
There is already talk about taking the display on the road to regional museums, Phillips said. Some denominational offices and seminaries also have expressed interest in hosting some or all of the display in the future.
The website for the exhibit is billygraham.org/landing pages/northcarolinamuseumexhibit.
Possible statue, stamp
Gov. McCrory visited the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte Oct. 2 to sign a bill passed by the state Senate and House to pave the way for a Billy Graham statue in the National Statuary Hall in Congress.
Congressional guidelines require that a person’s statue for Statuary Hall only be installed posthumously.
A seven-member panel will be formed to select 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 U.S. Postal Service and the Postmaster General of the United States to issue a commemorative stamp honoring the evangelist.
Unlike placing a statue in the U.S. Capitol, postal officials ended the stipulation in 2011 that commemorative stamps cannot feature someone who is still alive.
K. Allan Blume is chief editor of the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.