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The Miracle in Manhattan: Revisiting Billy Graham’s New York Crusade 65 Years Later

AMAC Exclusive – By Seamus Brennan

Billy Graham
Billy Graham sitting with former President John F. Kennedy

As unimaginable as it may seem in today’s increasingly secular culture, not too long ago some of the largest and most popular events in America’s cities were not pride parades or pro-abortion protests, but rather massive Christian preaching tours that drew millions of people to city streets and converted countless hearts, minds, and souls to Christianity.

This summer marks the 65th anniversary of one of the most notable of those events, Billy Graham’s famous 1957 “crusade” in New York City—a legendary multi-week campaign of preaching, religious music, and fellowship in a city that had seemed to abandon religion entirely. Though Graham conducted hundreds of crusades in nearly 200 countries throughout the course of his life, the New York crusade was the longest and among the most prominent.

“I believe the Lord would have us go to hard places,” Graham recalled of the event. “Over half the people in this great metropolis of New York are completely unchurched. However, I am convinced that in the sight of God and by heaven’s evaluation this crusade will be no failure and Christ will receive the glory and honor. I have prayed, worried, and wept over New York more than any other place in which we have held a crusade.”

By every available indication, his prayers were answered. Graham filled New York City’s Madison Square Garden for 16 straight weeks, ultimately drawing nearly 2.5 million Americans. Of those in attendance, more than 60,000 vowed to dedicate their lives to serving Christ, and an additional 30,000 who watched the live telecasts pledged the same. Though the crusade—which kicked off in May of 1957—was initially scheduled for only six weeks, after record-breaking attendance it was extended until September, at which point the final rally was held in Times Square.

According to the recollection of attendees and others involved in the crusade, the event’s success was immediately apparent. “I remember the first night, seeing the Garden,” recounted George Beverly Shea, Graham’s vocal soloist. “I had to sing before the message. Billy teased me because the Garden was full. Then it stayed full, night after night. It confirmed for Billy that this was what he should continue doing.”

“About the fourth week, we knew that God was doing something that was out of our control,” said Cliff Barrows, Graham’s then-master of ceremonies. “Normally, attendance dwindles; there are peaks and valleys. But there was this momentum. People who had sneered at [Graham] knew that something was going on. There was evidence that we ought not to stop something that was the work of God.”

Though Graham was himself a Protestant evangelical, his influence was not strictly confined to Protestant circles. He was also friendly with Catholics and encouraged cultural unity among faithful Christians of all stripes—an attitude that ultimately paved the way for “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” a 1994 ecumenical document spearheaded by Father Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest, and Charles Colson, a national Protestant figure.

At a time when church membership and the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian has reached an all-time low, Graham’s extraordinary witness decades ago is as relevant as ever. Though most Christian leaders today share a general pessimism about America’s declining religiosity and increasingly decadent culture, prior to his New York crusade, Graham, too, was notably skeptical of any possibility of meaningful spiritual revival. “Materialism, indifference and wickedness are apparent to even a casual Christian observer in New York,” Graham wrote in his diary. “I sometimes stand in the middle of that great city,” he later said, “and wonder if I can ever reach it for God.”

Yet, needless to say, he did.

Despite his initial doubts, the historic success of Graham’s crusades—in New York City and elsewhere—should serve as a source of tremendous hope and encouragement for Christians everywhere today. If Billy Graham—who was derided by secular culture almost as viciously and unfairly as many Christian leaders are today—could defy the odds, spread the Word of God to the most unhospitable of places, and ignite a massive spiritual revival in America’s liberal epicenter, who is to say Christians now are incapable of doing the same?

“I am willing to give my life, ready to die in New York, to see a true spiritual revival in New York and America,” Graham preached in July of 1957. May every Christian pray that Graham’s courageous witness will reverberate in churches, congregations, and Christian communities all across our great land—and that Christians of all stripes can follow in Graham’s footsteps and once again be salt and light in American life.

Our nation, our culture, and Almighty God deserve nothing less.

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9 months ago

Thank God for this article and reminder to this event. Billy Sunday was also an Evangelist that had large tent revivals. His in NYC also had great impact for the nation to turn to God. As we within the Church Body prays for God’s Revival in His Church and the Great Awakening to follow, we’re watching the worsening of our society, and the evil influences are almost ubiquitous. Only God’s Holy Spirit supernatural movement can bring this country back. In the precious Name of Jesus Christ, we plead for the Showers of Blessings to restore our Country and His Church Body.

9 months ago

What a nice reminder write up. What wonderful times. I had the previlege of being a counselor at the Billy Graham crusade in Sacramento, California, years later. It was exciting praying with folks, helping them pray to accept Jesus into their lives. In later years my husband and I went on to serve the Lord as Sunday School teachers, counselors at summer camps, Pastor and in many other ministries. Praise be to God for the wonderful things He has done. He will never leave us nor forsake us but we need to continue to pray, help folks open their hearts to God and serve him as best we can, even in these times because He’s coming back one day and we need to be ready for Him.

Dennis Belotti
9 months ago
Reply to  Barb

Barb, Thanks for your beautiful message and service.

9 months ago

This is what is missing in America today, religion, God, The Ten Commandments that God gave us as His directions to live our life by and nuclear families with fathers that provided for the family and mothers who made home a place for family instead of working.
Yes I realize things have changed, and not for the better as families now struggle to survive. But before Biden, there was not election fraud, mass shootings in our schools and churches, violent riots, organized mass snatch and grab theft, murder and hate that exists today.
This has been supported and allowed by Biden and his Administration and financed by George Soros and the socialist left billionaire owners of Facebook, Twitter and the fake MSM.

Dennis Belotti
9 months ago
Reply to  fred

Fred, your words are true. We have a corrupt socialist Government. If We the people do not oppose it…we are doomed.

Judy K.
9 months ago

America’s last great Preacher! Now, the Reverend beholds the precious face of his Savior in heaven. What a sight to behold, that we can only imagination.
The hundreds of thousands who Reverand Graham brought to Jesus Christ, are still here, although I’m sure some are with the Lord. This helps us know that many thousands of people are praying earnestly for this nation.

‘Praise ye the Lord, and forget not all his benefits.’

King David’s writings in the Psalms help me stay on track when I feel evil closing in and discouragement trying to gain a foothold.

Lord save us! Protect us from our own selves, that we don’t allow ourselves to be deceived, and
‘create a clean heart in me, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.’ In Jesus holy name, and for his sake I ask it, Amen.

Ertis Crumpler
9 months ago
Reply to  Judy K.

Thank you, Judy K. America, as a whole has turned its back on God and His teachings. As such this country is reaping the whirlwind and it only gets worse from here unless
Christians start praying for a revival in our country.

Myrna Wade
9 months ago

God is in charge. Presently it is hard to see but it remains true.

9 months ago

Billy was the real mccoy. He avoided even the slightest appearance of impropriety. He never met with a woman other than his wife in private. Also, he is refered to in the book ‘Unbroken’, a great read. The man the book is about finds salvation from a personal hell via a visit to a very early BG crusade. Of course this is omitted from the movie version.

Philip Hammersley
9 months ago

WE could use one again! In big cities and across the country!

Joel C Nelson
9 months ago

Praying He’ll do it again! Romans 1:16

Karen Knowles
9 months ago

I remember this. We desperately need this to happen again on a national level.

R Bart
9 months ago

It’s time for the Graham children to get together and jointly hold a revival in NewYork City commemorating the ‘57 crusade and renewing that event as no one else could do.

Dan Davis
9 months ago

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow. I too was one of the hundreds of thousands who were saved at least in part thru Billy’s Crusades.

9 months ago

Mario Murillo is doing now what Billy Graham did then but he has volunteer worker follow up, and discipleship planned so that there isn’t just another one time stadium seized feel good spiritual shower and two months later the new believer is back to wallowing in the same old mud, forsaking his hope and salvation. This new awakening is just the beginning to a new reform of our country, the days of church as usual, and the church not addressing current events and ignoring the five ton elephant in the room, are over. If the Church is the Body of Christ with Jesus as the head, and the government is supposed to rest on His shoulders then guess upon whom the government is supposed to rest? Step up Church! This country didn’t get to where it is now because of lack of attention at the ballot box but because of lack of attention in its pulpits.

9 months ago
Reply to  Veteran

Dear Veteran. It is not for us to judge but to be a witness. By your life shall men know you.
Jesus and God the Father will judge one day and He alone knows who are His.

Pastor Eric Hanson
8 months ago
Reply to  Veteran

I can tell you from experience, that the volunteer training concerning follow up and connecting the many new converts with solid Bible preaching churches was intense within the billy Graham Evangelistic Ministry. working with churches and fully training both counselors and follow up contact people was (and still is with Franklin’s and Will’s meetings) key, and front and center.

Patricia Hefferan
9 months ago

I was 13 years old when my mother and my two aunts took me to see Billy Graham. I was one of those who “came forward.” I am now 78 years old, long ago converted to Catholicism and have never, ever forgotten Billy Graham. I remember that he seemed larger than life when I walked up to him. I was compelled to do so. I still keep in touch the BGEA and thank Franklin Graham for his continued work and the work of his family. Billy Graham brought me to God and although I often strayed I have never lost my faith. I am more faithful now that ever before. I will forever be grateful to Billy Graham and the faith that he brought me to that has lasted a lifetime.

William Boylan
9 months ago

I was still in the womb.

9 months ago

Thank you Patricia for your testimony and honesty of your faith. May God bless you. I too am 78. I was saved to Jesus at age 21 and am forever thankful for the hope He has given me and the joy of having Him always in my life.

9 months ago

Thank you for this wonderful recollection of this inspirational event.

9 months ago

What a wonderful thing that was – Billy Graham’s Crusade in New York in 1957. We need to have Franklin Graham do the same today. Unfortunately, there is too much crime and corruption in New York today. In fact, we need a revival in the entire United States to bring people closer to God.

Sarah S.
9 months ago

Thank you for this article.

Linda Baker
9 months ago

One Nation under God.

Glen Foster Sr.
9 months ago
Reply to  Linda Baker

G.Foster I was a counsellor at this crusade. I praise God for what we saw and the moving of the Holy Spirit in the lives of 1,000’s of people. Jesus did a big thing. I would love to see His work again in this special way. God is power and loving all sinners today as before .

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