Photo courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Billy Graham stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial the morning of July 4, 1970, to deliver his message, "The Unfinished Dream," to a crowd estimated between 15,000 and 30,000 people.
Graham was the keynote speaker for Honor America Day’s "nationally televised religious service," according to a Baptist Press story at the time. Total attendance for Honor America Day celebrations near the memorial that day would approach 400,000. Amid the political and emotional chaos of the Vietnam War, Honor America Day was organized to boost the American spirit and "rededicate [Americans] to the responsibilities of America for the unfinished tasks ahead," former President Lyndon B. Johnson said.
The religious service included Graham's message; benedictions by Baptists E.V. Hill and E.L. Harrison and Roman Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen; and music by Kate Smith, the United States Army Band and the CenturyMen, a choir of 100 Southern Baptist men. A parade of flags to the White House concluded the morning's festivities.
The religious service was the first in a series of national, patriotic celebrations that day including activities on the mall between Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol, a spectacular fireworks show and various other events featuring such notables as Bob Hope, Glen Campbell, Jack Benny, Dinah Shore and the New Christy Minstrels.
Although reports in preparation for the event stated that police were expecting a peaceful crowd, Graham's message was met with protesters. Young "hippies" dishonored the flag, shouted anti-war obscenities, attempted to disrupt the service and tried to climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Their efforts were unsuccessful; the crowd applauded as the protesters were dispersed by park police.
Graham began by interpreting 1 Peter 2:17 to mean "honor the nation," establishing a tie to the Independence Day celebration. "We're not only here today to honor America,” he declared, “but we're here as citizens to renew our dedication and allegiance to the principles and institutions that made her great."
Graham acknowledged the significance of the monuments surrounding him and the vision represented by Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. "We can listen to no better voices than these men who gave us the dream that has become America," the evangelist said. "These men represent thousands who worked, prayed, suffered and died to give us this nation."
The nation's institutions were "under attack," Graham said, but the goal of the celebration was to prove that Americans still believed in them.
"Let's let the world know today that the majority of us still proudly sing 'My country 'tis of thee. Sweet land of liberty.' America needs to sing again. America needs to celebrate again. America needs to wave the flag again."
Graham commented on accusations against him for "honoring any secular state" by stating, "Jesus said, 'Rend unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. The apostle Paul proudly boasted of being a Roman citizen. The Bible says honor the nation. As a Christian or as a Jew or as an atheist, we have a responsibility that has always stood for liberty, protection and opportunity." Read More