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from the Billy Graham Library

This Date in History: Monumental 1949 LA Crusade Begins

September 25, 2012


Sixty-three years ago today, the tent that had been erected on the corner of Washington and Hill streets in Los Angeles was “open for business.”

The groundbreaking campaign, which was sponsored by the Christ for Greater Los Angeles Committee, was originally scheduled to last three weeks, but was extended to eight weeks due to overwhelming interest. Newspapers (some directed by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst to “Puff Graham”) gave the event front-page coverage, the conversions of several prominent people drew enormous attention, and overflow crowds filled the huge canvas tent containing the nightly services.

Christ for Greater Los Angeles had low expectations. “As far as the media were concerned,” Billy Graham describes in his autobiography, “the Los Angeles Campaign—by far our most ambitious evangelistic effort to date—was going to be a nonevent.”

From the Los Angeles Mirror, Sept. 24, 1949. Courtesy of Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

There was very little coverage at the start of the event. By the end, newspapers across the nation were writing of the happenings in southern California.

“What they didn’t know, however, was that we had not done it,” Billy Graham said. “I was still a country preacher with too much on my plate. Whatever this could be called and whatever it would become, it was God’s doing.”

According to the Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL), there were newsreel films made during the meetings which were shown in Los Angeles theaters. The oldest surviving footage from the meetings is a brief, black and white film produced by Grace Films after the end of the meetings and completed in early 1950. The film includes a portion of one of Billy Graham’s sermons, as well as Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea and vocalists Kay Stewart and Ellen Elsner. The sermon preached by Graham is based apparently on his opening sermon of the campaign on September 25.

Check out the complete online exhibit “Into the Big Tent” at the Billy Graham Center Archives. The exhibit showcases more than 100 items related to the groundbreaking campaign, including posters, photos, planning documents, and the film referenced above. It includes 55 audio files of Graham’s 1949 sermons, which were originally captured on wire recordings and have been digitized for the exhibit.

You can also visit us at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, NC, where we’ve recreated that tent on the corner of Washington and Hill streets. Visit www.billygrahamlibrary.org to plan your trip.

Promotional poster displayed before the event. Courtesy of Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL