On July 14, 1950, Billy Graham was invited to the White House to meet with President Harry Truman. The visit was arranged by two congressmen, Joe Bryson of South Carolina and Herbert C. Bonner of North Carolina.
Billy took along Cliff Barrows, Jerry Beavan, and Grady Wilson for the visit, and the small group, decked out in pastel summer suits and white buck shoes, entered the halls of the White House for the first time. Unused to meeting with dignitaries, Billy talked extensively about the war in Korea, and upon realizing his allotted 20 minutes were quickly running out, he hurriedly asked the president about his faith background. Truman responded that he tried “to live by the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule.” Billy then explained that faith in Christ was the key and asked if he could pray with the president. Truman agreed, saying it “couldn’t hurt,” and Billy spent five minutes in prayer with him before exiting the White House.
The team was met with reporters as soon as they got out of the building, wanting to know what was said during their meeting. One reporter encouraged Billy to re-enact his prayer with the president, and Billy, Cliff, Jerry, and Grady knelt on the White House lawn and thanked God for their visit, not thinking about how national coverage of the event would be perceived by Truman. Billy later described the event as an “embarrassing experience,” and vowed to himself “it would never happen again if [he] was ever given access to a person of rank or influence.”
Years later, Billy was invited to visit with Truman at his home in Independence, Missouri. Billy apologized for his gaffe. Truman quickly and graciously responded, “Don’t worry about it. I realized you hadn’t been properly briefed.”
The Billy Graham Library is featuring an exhibit Pastor to Presidents highlighting Billy Graham’s friendships with our nation’s Executive Office. The exhibit runs through December 31, 2020. For more information on the exhibit, visit www.billygrahamlibrary.org.