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Interview of Dean Colvard

Colvard, Dean
Johnson, Jean
Date of Interview: 
Billy Graham Crusade--1972; Charlotte, NC; Religion-South; Religion-race relations; Race relations; Swannanoa, NC; Montreat, NC; Piney Grove Presbyterian Church; Volunteerism; Event planning; Evangelism; University Research Park, Charlotte, NC; Berea College; Wheaton College; Museum-History, proposed; AT&T; Southern Bell; University of North Carolina at Charlotte; African American churches.
The chairperson of the 1972 Billy Graham Crusade in Charlotte, NC, Dean Colvard discusses his role in the planning and implementation of the religious event. Colvard indicates that racial discord in the community made him a good choice for chairman because of his well-known reputation as a racially-progressive citizen. He details the development of such a large crusade by thousands of volunteers and credits the Billy Graham Ministries for its successful planning model. Colvard talks about the impact of the crusade on Charlotte and, implicitly, the progress he sees in interracial cooperation within the religious community, as evidenced by volunteerism in the early phases of a later Graham crusade. Colvard discusses a proposed history museum to honor Billy Graham that never came to fruition. Exploring the University Research Park as a possible site, Colvard and Charlotte leaders ultimately decided against the venture.
1972- c.1996.
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed at the Musuem of the New South
Levine Museum of the New South, Billy Graham Series
Interview Audio: 
DC (Dean Colvard): Well [Clears throat] I was relatively new here at the time. What year was that? 19--?
JJ (Jean Johnson): Are you talking about the 1972 crusade?
DC: 1972. [Clears throat] Well I came to Charlotte in 1967--66, so I was relatively new here. And of course there had been quite a bit of dissension among the organizations and the racial groups, and Charlotte had at one time had restrictions on the people who could go downtown at night and things like that because of disturbances. And I was approached by [Clears throat] Mayor Stanford Brookshire and an attorney named Joe Grier who were very good friends of mine, very prominent men here in Charlotte, about being the chairman of the, the Billy Graham crusade. I knew Billy, not well. As a matter of fact, my wife and I had been in a Sunday school class of his father-in-law up at Swannanoa, North Carolina. He lived at Montreat. And we were--. We came to Swannanoa when we were first married. I had a job there; that's just out of Asheville toward Montreat. And Billy's father-in-law, Dr. Bell, had, was a doctor in Asheville and was a very devout Christian. Wonderful Sunday school teacher. And he was our Sunday school teacher at Piney Grove Presbyterian Church which was one of the older Presbyterian churches on that side of the Blue Ridge Mountain. Incidentally, that's the west side. [Laughter] So I knew him [Clears throat] both because of his national reputation and also because of our local acquaintance with his family. And I had met him but didn't know him well. Well it was a surprise to me when they came to me to talk to me about my being the chairman of the Billy Graham crusade, because I had had no previous connection with the crusades or with Billy's program. And so I had to ask the question as to why me. [Laughter] Why they had chosen to invite me to do that. And the thing that you said earlier began to came, to come out--that there was some concern on their part about being able to solidify the support of the churches of all denominations and of all races. Their desire was to have a, a genuine Christian crusade led by Billy Graham with the support of all churches, if possible. And this meant that there were [Clears throat] a lot of people in Charlotte who probably could not be the chairman [Laughter] of the, of the crusade because of the possibly of arousing one or other of the interests that had been previously expressed. And I can't identify exactly what those were. [Clears throat] So another way to say it is I would probably the least objectionable [Laughter], but they knew that I was somewhat liberally inclined on racial matters. And therefore, the thought that I would be acceptable as a chairman to the, to all of the, all of the people, which was compliment enough to me to--. Plus the fact that I've always believed Billy Graham did a lot of good in the country to prompt me to say that I would do it if I could. But then I had a reason to say that I couldn't, because [Clears throat]I had just been invited by one of the large foundations in the country to accept a two month sabbatical just as this preparation was getting underway, so my first response was that I couldn't do it because I was going to be away from Charlotte during the most crucial part of the planning. And Mayor Brookshire, who is a good friend of mine, immediately cut me down on that argument by saying, "I'll take care of all the meetings you [Laughter]have to participate in while you're gone." And that's, that's about it in a nutshell. I agreed to do it the best I could.
JJ: So as committee chair, what were your responsibilities?
DC: Well, [Clears throat] the responsibilities, of course, were to work with the leaders from the Billy Graham organization and with the local leaders in making preparations for the crusade, including such things as, as place for the meeting, the plans for inviting participation, and plans for conducting the crusade, financing it, and all the rest. Although I made it very clear to them that they would have to take the lead working with the Billy Graham campaign and financing and that I could not raise the money. I would assist in any way I could, but I could not be responsible for raising the money. That turned out not to be a great problem. They were able to handle it. And [Clears throat]the, there were other prominent actors in this. The First Union Bank--. I believe it was First Union. Graeme Keith was with First Union then wasn't he? He's leader now. I think he was with First Union. But, but the--. It turned out that the, the bankers who were handling the Graham finances had to be very deeply involved in this, and Graeme Keith was, was one of those persons. I think they felt that they needed to have a person outside of the bank as the chairman because of the possible creation of an image that it was a financial venture of some kind. And that was part of the reason I think they felt--. I was not a banker. I was not a minister. I was not, I was not a representative of any cam--, any known campaign on racial matters one way or another except they knew that I was very liberally oriented in my toleration for multiracial things. And so I was glad to do it. It was--. I've always felt very positively about Billy Graham, [Long pause] never having had any feelings that Billy Graham had done any harm anywhere in the country; he's done good wherever he's been. That wouldn't be very good grammar if you say he's done good. He's done well [Laughter], but he's done well doing good, and I think he's, he's never failed on that. So I was glad to do it, but I was away. And, let's see, most of the preparations were done in January and February of 1973. And my wife and I were on this sabbatical in Hawaii during those two months. And the crusade actually started very soon after we returned. And the--. So that, I must say that much of the, the work and planning had been done by others, but they had it pretty well laid out. And they were [Clears throat] people with whom I communicated well, and I had--. They knew I had full confidence. So I picked up whatever the chairman was supposed to do when I got back, which was pretty straightforward. The Graham, the Graham staff were very confident people, and they'd been through this many, many times. And they have a, they have a plan that works. They have--. They know how to deal with media. They know how to deal with large crowds of people. They know their own procedures for achieving the purposes of the crusade. And so that the chair had the major responsibility then of, of being somewhat of a liaison between the, the Graham staff and the public. And the thing was held at the Coliseum, and I usually opened the meeting and welcomed the people there and did those things that needed to be done to get any substantial meeting on its way.
JJ: How many people were involved?
DC: Oh, thousands of people I mean they had many, [Clears throat] many people. You mean involved in attending or in--?
JJ: The planning.
DC: The planning. Well this involved many, many people because they had large groups of, of choral performers from the various churches and those had to be organized and brought together. And they performed at certain times. And then they had performers from the Graham organization, mostly the soloists. And so there were a lot of people performed both in the preparation and in the performance. And but at the time, the Graham organization was so efficient that they knew exactly how to press the buttons and cause things to happen. And they worked with the national media. And when Billy Graham arrived after my preliminary remarks and introductions and began his actual part of the ceremony, it, it went pretty much according to the Graham organization plan. So that I was, I was the presiding officer in the opening and in bringing those present--. And there was usually ten, twelve thousand people there that the Coliseum would be full of people. And bringing them in contact with the Graham organization, and let it go.
JJ: Were there black churches involved?
DC: Oh yes.
JJ: Black individuals involved?
DC: Oh yes. Yes, they were. They were. I don't recall [Clears throat] exactly how they, which black people and how they were involved, but I guess the fact that I don't recall it means there was no problem. And because I never had to deal with any problem in that relationship. I was, in a sense, I guess a chair and an image of the relationship between the community and, and the Graham organization. But I did not have any tough problems to work out.
JJ: Was there a focus to this particular crusade? Will you talk about that? It seemed to have a youth focus?
DC: I don't recall that there was a focus at that type. Of course, the focus of Billy Graham's crusade is generally--. It's a Christian focus. And it's a massive evangelistic approach with a massive response by people who want to declare themselves to the Christian belief as Billy Graham presented it. And it was a moving experience in many ways because of the, the massive reaction of people, the moving music that they had, and Billy Graham's dynamic presentation of his spiritual message. There didn't seem, seem to be any, any specific objective separate and apart from the Christian crusade, which is Billy Graham himself. I want to say parenthetically, [Clears throat] the only time I ever played golf with the press following me over the golf course was, was [Laughter] once when, because I was chairman, I went with Graeme Keith who was a good golfer, incidentally, and Billy Graham and one of his top associates out to play golf and had the press following along the whole time. [Laughter]
JJ: I believe I saw a picture of you in the newspaper.
DC: Oh did you? Well I hope it didn't--. I hope it was not one of my typical golf, golf shots. [Laughter] [Clears throat]
JJ: Did you attend the crusade yourself?
DC: Oh yes. I attended every meeting when I was--. I guess all the meetings were held after I got back. It actually started after we came, returned. And so I was here all the time the crusade was going on. And I attended--. I think I attended all the meetings, I don't recall that precisely. But I, I can't think why I would not have been present for all of them, because I--. Of course, I started out on the platform in each instance as the presiding officer. And whether I stayed to the very end, I wouldn't be sure now, but that's--. But my role was finished when they got Billy Graham on. [Laughter] Because from then on, it was a, it was an arrangement that works so many times that they just let it work. And they had many of the local people the choirs, men, women, multi-church, black and white choirs were moving to me because they were a massive group of voices singing the spiritual songs and very well done.
JJ: After the crusade, there seemed to be an aftereffect, a lingering of atmosphere or--? Or how did it--? Did it have an effect on people?
DC: Yes, I think it had an affect on the community. It would be hard for me to evaluate that with any precision, but as an observer, I would say it had several affects. One was that there were literally hundreds of people coming forward and making a public profession of their belief in Christianity. And how lasting that commitment was I would have no way of measuring, but that in itself was the most visible effect that the crusade itself. And it would be very had to evaluate how, how lasting that impact was in any particular way. But there would be no way at all of finding anything negative about it. It was really, as far as I was concerned, it was positive all the way.
JJ: As relating to the evangelists here in the South, do you think evangelism is particular to the South?
DC: Well, I think Billy Graham--. I think it would be incorrect to interpret Billy Graham as being of the South. He comes from the South. He grew up in Charlotte, and he lives in Montreat. So he is of the south just as I am. He grew up here and--. But Billy Graham is an international figure, and his impact in other parts of the country is just as great as it is in his, in his native land. But the, the, the strength of Billy Graham, I think, a part of it lies in the fact that it has not been regionalized. It's, it has not been a southern crusade of any denomination. I was about to use the name of a denomination; I don't want to what to do that. But it's, it's a non-denominational. It rises above the beliefs of the individual denominations. It has reached the level of the presidents of the United States, and it's, it's gone to practically all the countries in the world, if not all the countries. So it would be very hard to tie Billy Graham to the South beyond the fact that this is where he grew up because he's an international, he's an inte--. He's the one evangelist that I know who has not engaged himself in any regional politics or national politics or--. He's been a mediator for good with presidents and leaders of various countries of the world and therein, to me lies his, the strength of his crusade compared to most of the others we know.
JJ: Were you involved in the Graham and Nixon visit the previous October?
DC: No, I was not involved in, in--. You mean when Nixon was here?
JJ: Yes.
DC: No, I was not involved in that.
JJ: Have you been involved in other revivals or crusades?
DC: No, no I've never been involved in any of these crusades except this one. And while I'm, while I've been very positive about Billy Graham as an, as an evangelist, I have never been, I have never followed his crusades to other places or anything of that sort. [Long pause] The, the Graham, the Graham team is professional in terms of their operations. I might say--. You asked the question about the follow up. [Clears throat] There was a, there was a possible follow up that did not work out so well. There was consideration of, of building a museum, a Billy Graham museum in our University Research Park, which I was very much involved in. And I was in favor of doing that up to a point. [Clears throat] His, his crusades did not fit into the definition of the purposes of the University Research Park too well, because it was designed to bring in technical people who were highly skilled in the latest technologies and who would be, who would be highly remunerated for their services and who would want to continue to study in the sciences and in computers and technology generally, so that we couldn't classify a Billy Graham museum as a science laboratory. And therein was one of the questions. But, [Clears throat] so far as, so far as being a home for a museum of history so to speak of an important person in North Carolina and in Charlotte, we considered that. And, and there was some representative of his organization, a lady-and I do not recall her name. I might have it somewhere. Who spent some time with me and discussing the possibility of a, of a museum and to what extent a library might be related to the library of the University. And she went with me on one trip that I made. I was on the Board of Trustees of Berea College in Kentucky. And while there was not specific relation to the, to the museum in Berea, she just happened to be here and went with me to Berea one time just to get a broader view of some other institutions that were working to improve the education and culture of the South. But [Clears throat] it turned out that this museum, or a similar one, was located at, I think, at Wheaton College, which is where Billy Graham went to school. And I was quick to agree that that was probably a more appropriate place for it because of his relationship there. It would have been quite different from the communications centers for AT&T, Southern Bell, and other computer oriented establishments that have been put out here. So there was, there was a considerable discussion of that at one time, but it never reached the point of, of being a firm proposal. I guess it was a spanal exploration and could have happened if it had been determined that it was the best place, but that was one possible follow up. [Pause] I was on the committee that was called together to consider the crusade that's, that is being planned right now. And I met with that breakfast group that was considering it and was very much pleased to see the, the attendance and the, the attendance at that breakfast by the very people that might have been, that they might have been a concern about getting the support of in 1973. And they were, the black churches, were well represented. The various denominations were well represented. Graeme Keith, who continues to be the financial advisor, presided. And all of us who were there [Clears throat] gave strong support to following up and getting Billy to do another crusade in Charlotte [Clears throat] thinking that certainly at this stage in his career, Charlotte ought to be involved in what might be a final crusade here, if not a final crusade for Billy. You might not want to put that in, but.