70th Anniversary of Billy Graham’s Central Valley Crusade

An impressive anniversary is coming up in November in the Central Valley.

 Photo-ad – This is what one of the advertisements for the Billy Graham Modesto Crusade looked like in the Modesto Bee. Photo from the Modesto Bee.

Photo-ad – This is what one of the advertisements for the Billy Graham Modesto Crusade looked like in the Modesto Bee. Photo from the Modesto Bee.

October 24 will mark the seventieth anniversary of the Billy Graham Modesto Crusade.

More importantly, that anniversary will note the creation of the guiding principles the Graham organization wrote during their daytime breaks from that two-week Crusade.  

The principles were called the Modesto Manifesto.

An advertisement that ran in the October 23 1948 issue of the Modesto Bee called the event the Canvas Cathedral.  There was a reference to the huge tent that was put up in a field near the corner of Burney and La Loma Streets.

Today, Burney is still called a street and La Loma is now referred to as an avenue.

At the time, local Christian ministers were asked by the Graham organization to help fill that tent for the first night.  

They were assured that if the first night was successful, the rest of the crusade attendance would take care of itself.

For two weeks, an estimated nightly crowd of two-thousand came to the Canvas Cathedral.  The Modesto Crusade was deemed a success, and it would help propel Billy Graham to other venues including the Los Angeles event held one year later.

 Billy Graham, who died at the age of 99 on February 21, 2018, wrote dozens of books including Personal Thoughts of a Public Man. Photo from the book cover.

Billy Graham, who died at the age of 99 on February 21, 2018, wrote dozens of books including Personal Thoughts of a Public Man. Photo from the book cover.

The rest of the story is now in the history books.  Billy Graham traveled all over the world for the next six decades.  

He embraced television, wrote dozens of books, and was considered the “nation’s pastor” by the next eleven presidents.

But it’s the Modesto Manifesto that makes this incredible story of the life of Billy Graham so meaningful to many in the Central Valley.

I’ve written about the Manifesto on a few occasions since 2008 when I came across an article commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Modesto Crusade.

Modesto was a crucial stop in the fledgling period of the Graham ministry.  The evangelist had his eyes on Los Angeles, but wanted every event leading up to the planned 1949 L.A. crusade to continue building momentum.  

His close friend and associate Cliff Barrows came from Ceres, Stanislaus County. Barrows suggested the Modesto stop hoping that his connections with the local faith communities would come through to help make it a success.

While hundreds upon hundreds of people attended the nightly crusade, Billy and his team took advantage of the daytime hours to critically analyze the ministry and the potential problems that could sidetrack an evangelist.

Graham’s close associate was Ceres native Cliff Barrows.  

Barrows, who met Billy while on his honeymoon in Wisconsin, spoke to me in 2010 for a book I wrote about the Central Valley.  We discussed the Modesto Manifesto.

Barrows told me the group was directed by Billy to identify potential pitfalls for the organization, and later decide together on a strategy to avoid these pitfalls.

While the crowds came to experience the Crusade at night, during the day Graham and his top three associates George Beverly Shea, Grady Wilson, and Barrows worked and prayed on the issue.

“The book Elmer Gantry (by Sinclair Lewis) was popular at the time,” he said in 2010.  “It did not put evangelists in a positive light. Billy asked the three of us to think about the pitfalls that other evangelists had encountered.  We each went back to our motel rooms and reconvened the next day to learn that our lists were very similar.”

In the 1966 book, Crusades, published by the Billy Graham organization, the official account of the meetings indicate the men had come up with about fifteen potential pitfalls ranging from finances to infidelity.

What emerged from those daily meetings with the Graham team was a list of four guiding principles.  They are:

  • Accountability-transparency in reporting finances and Crusade attendance

  • Purity-specifically addressing sexual immorality.  This led to a directive that no one working for the Graham organization be allowed to have a closed door meeting with someone from the opposite sex.

  • Integrity-no criticism of local churches or local pastors

  • Humility-no seeking out “exaggerated publicity” for the crusade events

It’s believed Cliff Barrows gave the principles the name Modesto Manifesto.  

Short of the Ten Commandments, the Manifesto was likely the first time a religious organization publicly stated their operating guidelines.

Billy Graham died in February 2018 at the age of 99.  His son Franklin, who is also a minister, visited Turlock later in the year for a prayer convocation event.

Cliff Barrows died in 2016.  At the time of his death, I wrote an appreciation piece that was published in the Modesto Bee.  

In that essay, I recalled how interested Barrows seemed to be in what was going on in his native region.  As we prepared for the taped telephone interview for my book 9 from 99, he wanted me to know that he still thought fondly of the Central Valley.

 The Modesto Gospel Mission was founded with $5,000 of the proceeds from the 1948 Billy Graham Modesto Crusade. Photo: Modesto Gospel Mission

The Modesto Gospel Mission was founded with $5,000 of the proceeds from the 1948 Billy Graham Modesto Crusade. Photo: Modesto Gospel Mission

The only memento of the 1948 Graham Modesto Crusade is an anti-poverty organization.  

The Modesto Gospel Mission was founded using five-thousand dollars from local share of the 1948 Central Valley event.  The Mission continues to feed hundreds of homeless every week and provides over fifty-thousand bed nights to those in need.

The Mission recently celebrated its seventieth anniversary with a gala fundraising event at the Doubletree Hotel in Modesto.  It continues to serve the community.

So it appears that the Modesto Manifesto tenet dealing with accountability was put into action immediately following the 1948 Crusade.  

That gift of $5,000 has come back many times in the form of meals for the hungry, bed nights for those needing a place to stay in the community, and hope for those who may have lost hope.

Billy Graham and his team of associates would be very proud.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.

He’s working on a new book about his first years working in television news.