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Interview with Bobbie Nell Earnhardt

Earnhardt, Bobbie Nell
Johnson, Jean
Date of Interview: 
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Revivals - Southern States, Department Stores, Billy Graham family.
Mrs. Bobbie Earnhardt remembers Billy Graham and his family from growing up in the same church and attending the same school. Mrs. Earnhardt recalls funny stories and facts of interest about Billy Graham's upbringing. She recalls the Ham-Ramsay, Billy Sunday and the Billy Graham revivals here in Charlotte.
Charlotte, 1920-1996
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed at the Earnhardt home on Yorkmont Road in Charlotte, North Carolina
Levine Museum of the New South, Billy Graham Series
Collection Description: 
Jean Johnson interviewed a variety of people who knew Billy Graham for an exhibit on his life at the Levine Museum of the New South
Interview Audio: 
JJ (Jean Johnson): We're here with Bobbie Nell Earnhardt and it is April 26th 1996, and we're in her home on Yorkmont Drive.
BE (Bobbie Earnhardt): Road.
JJ: Road. It's a nice area. I've never been back.
BE: It was just a couple of weeks ago it was absolutely beautiful.
JJ: I missed the turn and turned down here and circled around, it was nice.
BE: Uh-hum, it is.
JJ: That's great.
BE: And we've been around here thirty-four years and it has stayed this way. I mean it was this way when we came here.
JJ: Uh-huh.
BE: And it's still this way.
JJ: Yeah. Well tell me about your earliest years with Billy Graham?
BE: Well, my earliest years with Billy Graham was at Chalmers Memorial ARP Church. And my family and his family went to church together. And I was familiar with Mr. and Mrs. Graham, and also all of the Graham children: Billy, Catherine, Melvin and Jean. In fact I even remember when Jean was born. She's the youngest child. And I don't remember too much about Billy as per say, except that he was always a, a tall lanky fellow. And kind of a dirty blond colored hair. And he always got along with people real well and everything. And his brothers and sisters got along well with people too. And Mrs. Graham was the prettiest lady in our church. In the summertime back then the ladies wore dresses a whole lot more than they did suits. And she wore some of the prettiest pastel color dresses that you ever saw. And each dress if it was a blue dress or a pink dress or whatever, she had a broad brimmed pastel colored hat to match that dress or that outfit. And she had beautiful blond hair and when she would get on one of those outfits and that broad brimmed hat she was just the prettiest thing that you ever saw.
JJ: I'm going to pick that up. The noise of that paper, or just slide it over there.
BE: Just quit messing with it.
JJ: And what about Mr. Graham I think you said he was a dresser.
BE: Mr. Graham was a, a real nice dresser. He was always very neat looking and everything. Well that whole family, everybody in the family was very neatly dressed. You wouldn't pick out one and say that it was better dressed than the other. All of them were well dressed. And in later years, now I don't know where Mr. Graham bought his clothes in the early days that I'm talking about. I'm talking about in about 1927 and '28. And I don't know where he bought his clothes then probably Belk's or Ed Mellon's one, but in later years he bought a lot of his clothes at Harris Hart Clothing Company down in Dilworth. I happened to be down there one day buying a, a neck tie for somebody's graduation gift and Mr. Graham was in their picking up some suits that he had bought and had tailored and so I know that's where, in later years that's where he bought his clothing. And Mr. and Mrs. Graham are, they were as congenial a people as anybody could have ever come in contact with. And you just couldn't, you couldn't say anything bad about them because there was just nothing, there was just nothing bad about them. And Mr. and Mrs. Graham both are buried at Steel Creek Presbyterian Church cemetery. And the reason that they're, they're buried at Steel Creek Presbyterian Church cemetery is Mrs. Graham was born and raised in Steel Creek and her mother and father are buried out there at Steel Creek. And her, she to my knowledge, she only had two sisters. A Mrs. Bailes and a Mrs. Barker. And her two sisters and their husbands are buried on the same plot with her parents. And her and Mr. Graham are buried right across the driveway on a Graham plot. And right next to the Graham plot is the Wilson plot and that some of Grady Wilson's people, I don't know just who it is, I'd have to go to the cemetery and look that up, but they buried out there. And about the, the kind of people that the Grahams are or were; I, I, I think that Billy Graham really, really had a calling to be a minister. I think he was called of God and--.
JJ: What, what's your earliest memory of Billy?
BE: My, my earliest memory of Billy, he would have probably been about nine or ten years old or something like that, because I can't remember until, except until I was five or six, and I remember Billy running around there just a lanky child, and I would say he was about nine or ten. And one thing that I remember about him, I remember having an Easter egg hunt down there one time and I remember that all of the Graham children were at the Easter Egg hunt, and one time we had a supper down there at the church and it was a waffle supper and that was waffles were very, very popular then and we had a waffle supper and Mr. and Mrs. Graham--. [Clears throat] Excuse me. Mr. And Mrs. Graham brought the butter to [laughs] to put on the waffles and that was really good butter. And another thing that I remember about the Grahams, one time Mr. Graham got kicked in the head by a cow and it, well it just nearly killed him and he had to go to the hospital and have stitches and everything. And I don't know whether he was out of church more than one Sunday or not, but anyhow when he came back to church, he still looked terrible. His face was just blue and, and you could see where the stitches had been and everything. It was just a, a terrible accident, but back to Billy and having been called into the ministry. I don't know whether Mr. and Mrs. Graham and especially Mrs. Graham, I don't know whether they ever had it in their head that one of their children might be called. But they raised all of their children to be prepared if they were called that they would be ready. And that's a, that's about as much as I can remember.
JJ: Why, why did they leave the Chalmers church?
BE: The reason that they left Chalmers Church, Mrs. Graham and I'm sure Mr. Graham said it too but Mrs. Graham certainly said it, she said that her children weren't getting enough spiritual food. And that was the reason that they changed churches. And they went to, I'm going to have to ask you this, what did you say that the name of the church was, Presbyterian--?
JJ: The Calvary, Calvary Presbyterian.
BE: No, it wasn't Calvary Presbyterian. It was, yeah, Calvary Presbyterian.
JJ: You said West--.
BE: I said Bible--.
JJ: Bible yes--.
BE: Calvary Presbyterian. There was a church called Tenth Avenue Presbyterian Church, and that sat in the forks in the road down on Tenth Street on, I think it was at Tenth and Poplar. I think it was right across the street from the Poplar apartment. And the congregation down at Tenth Avenue Presbyterian Church decided to split, and when they split they formed Calvary Presbyterian Church. And some of them, about half of them stayed at Tenth Avenue, and about half of them went to Calvary. And my husband had an, an aunt, two aunts and an uncle by marriage who went to Calvary Presbyterian. Mame Frazier was one aunt that went there, and the other one was Blanche Brown and her husband was Frank Lee Brown and Frank Lee Brown was a, a, he was a high up in the church, he held all kind of offices in the church. And the Grahams did go to church with Frank Lee Brown and his wife Blanche. And Frank Lee and Blanche had a son named Tommy, and Tommy remembered--. Tommy's not as old as Billy, but Tommy remembers being in church with Billy Graham there at Calvary Presbyterian Church.
JJ: When did that church move to Sardis Road, do you know? I can find that out I guess.
BE: I don't know, I don't know when it moved out there. And quite truthfully, I didn't actually realize that I call it the Pink Calvary. I didn't, [laughs] I didn't realize that the Pink Calvary was, that, that it was a spin off of the Calvary Presbyterian that was on, on Fourth Street. And, I don't know just exactly what age Billy was, when they left Chalmers, but I would say that he was about fifteen or sixteen. And now do you want me to tell him, tell about Billy kidnapping Edna? [Laughter]
JJ: Uh-hum. Tell us that story.
BE: Billy Graham went to Sharon School, and me and my husband had a friend, she's dead now, she died three years ago. And she went to Sharon School and went to school with Billy Graham. And incidentally Edna was born the same year that Billy was, they were born in 19 and 18. And a bunch of the children at Sharon School, gathered up some place and just as a lark and as a game, they decided that each boy should kidnap a girl, one of the girls. And so Billy kidnapped Edna and I don't know how it happened but the group kind of split up somehow or another, and Billy got kind of left holding the bag [laugh] with Edna and, and he didn't know what to do with her so Billy took Edna home with him, and when Mrs. Graham found out what had happened and everything, the Grahams got in touch with Edna's people and they got her back home. They got her un-kidnapped [laugh]. And, and, but Edna had Alzheimer's, she had told this story many, many times before she got Alzheimer's, and, but after she got Alzheimer's that was one of the things that she had on her mind and she would sit and tell it, if she, if she sat with you for fifteen minutes, she'd tell you about that ten times in fifteen minutes.
JJ: Which school did you go to?
BE: I went to, as a grammar school, I went to Wilmore, and then I went to Alexander Graham and then Central. And you know, I don't know whether Sharon was a, I don't know whether you could start to Sharon in the first grade and go all the way through the twelfth or not. But now Charlie Hunter was a real good friend of Billy Graham's, and I have, I don't know for sure but I've got a notion that Billy Graham probably came to Charlie Hunter's funeral. Mr. Hunter died back about three or four months ago. And he was also born in 1918. And Mr. Hunter went to Woodlawn school, and then when he went to high school, well he went to Sharon, and that's where he, he went to school with Billy at Sharon. In other words he didn't go to Grammar school with Billy and, but Mr. Hunter and Billy, they were real, very close friends. And Mr. Hunter's wife's name is Lucielle. Now I feel sure that Mrs. Hunter could tell you some-she probably has the yearbook and everything from Sharon School. And also, Mrs. Graham was a Coffey, C-O-F-F-E-Y before she married and she was raised out in the Steel Creek section. And she was raised on Shopton Road. And, I don't know whether that house is still standing or not but for a long, long time that house was still, still standing.
JJ: Did you ever go to see Billy Graham when he started coming back to town to preach?
BE: I went to the, I went to the crusade that they had at the Coliseum. And there's been three crusades and I don't even know where the, I can't remember where the other two were held.
JJ: The 1947 one was in the Armory, the old Armory, which then was in the Park Center.
BE: Uh-huh.
JJ: And the '58 and '72 were both at the old Coliseum.
BE: Well, I believe it was, I'm, I'm almost positive that it was the '58 one that I, that I went to, and I, I sat in a, in some end seats that would be nearer, Monroe Road. In other words I sat on the Monroe Road end right, rather than the Independence Boulevard end. And incidentally, right where we're sitting now, is only about two blocks, the way the crow flies, to the Billy Graham Parkway--,
JJ: Um-hum.
BE: Of which was named for Billy Graham. In fact the person that is doing this interview Jean Johnson, she had to come over the Billy Graham Parkway to get to my home.
JJ: That's right.
BE: On Yorkmont Road.
JJ: That's right. Did you go to the revival that Mordecai Ham held here?
BE: Yes I did, but I, I think that that thing was called the Ham-Ramsay--.
JJ: Uh-huh.
BE: Revival.
JJ: That's right, Ramsay was his musician.
BE: And well, I, I, I couldn't, I couldn't remember how it came about that it was called the Ham-Ramsey, but and if I'm not mistaken that thing was held in a tent over off of Central Avenue, and I remember going there. And we also went to an evangelistic meeting that was held in the Exposition building, down on West Park Avenue; pardon me, East Park Avenue and that was Cyclone Mac held that one. Now whether Billy went to that one or not I don't know but I remember going to hear Cyclone Mac preach.
JJ: What do you remember about the Mordecai-Ramsay?
BE: I don't remember too much, I don't remember too much about it. My father and mother took us on several occasions, but I don't remember, I don't remember too, too much about it.
JJ: Are there any other evangelists you've heard here in town besides--.
BE: Well now, I didn't hear Billy, Billy Sunday because Billy Sunday preached here before I can remember. But now my, my father and mother went to hear Billy Sunday and oh, they thought Billy Sunday was the greatest thing, of course he came along before sliced-bread. But they thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. And I think it almost ironic that Billy Sunday was the, probably the greatest evangelist that the United States has ever known, until Billy Graham came along and that they're both named "Billy". And I do have a songbook that was used at the Billy Sunday.
JJ: Oh!
BE: Dr. Homer Justis is mine and, my husband's urologist and his name is Homer Rutherford Justis and one day I was looking in the, that Billy Sunday book and I saw a Homer Rutherford in there and the next time that I went up to Dr. Justis' office I asked him I said, "by any chance were you named for somebody that had some dealings with the Billy Sunday crusade?" He said, "Me and my twin brother were born when Billy Sunday was holding a crusade in his hometown and it was in West Virginia." And he said that they, his brother was born first a few minutes before him. They named him Billy Sunday Justis, J-U-S-T-I-S. And Homer Rutherford was the musical director and, and named Dr. Justis, Homer Rutherford Justis.
JJ: Those are some names. [Laugh]
BE: And I've got pictures in that hymnbook, I've got pictures of--.
JJ: I'd like to see them.
BE: Dr., of Billy Sunday and Homer Rutherford.
JJ: How long did you stay at the Chalmers?
BE: I stayed at Chalmers Church until my sister got married. We were taught as children, that when you got married, if your husband was in a church, that you went to your husbands church, and it, it, it so happened that at, that at the time my husband wasn't in the church so I stayed at Chalmers Church. Well my sister got married in, let's see, I believe it was '47. I'm almost positive it was '47 and she married a Methodist and so of course according to our raising, when she married a Methodist and he was in the church, she was supposed to move her membership and go to the Methodist Church, so my sister moves her membership to Calvary Methodist Church to be with her husband Leo Geer. And at that time our children were small children, probably three and six. We only have two sons Douglas and Mike, and at times I couldn't go to church, because one of the children would be sick or something, and my sister saw to it that the children got to church. And so I said, "Why should I be a member of Chalmers Church and not be able to get the children there." [Tape cuts off suddenly and then restarts.]
JJ: Okay.
BE: And one Sunday down at Calvary Methodist church in our Sunday school class, they were asking for each person to tell how they became a member of Calvary Church. I know there were all kinds of reasons given why they, they moved into the neighborhood and first one thing and then another, so when they got to me and they asked me why I became a member of Calvary Methodist Church I told them, "Well my sister Helen married me into it [laughter] when, when she married into it, and I needed help getting my children to church, that I just moved my membership to, and both of our children joined, Calvary Methodist Church". And our youngest son has never married his name is Mike, and he still lives at home. He moved away for twelve years but he came back home in '81 and he's still a member of Calvary Methodist Church. And my son, the, our other son Douglas, he married a, a girl named Connie Estridge and she was a Baptist, and instead of her changing and coming to our church, well our son changed and went to the Baptist church. So, and if I'm not mistaken, I think they are members of Calvary. Calvary--.
JJ: Presbyterian?
BE: Calvary Presbyterian Church, because, that is an interdenominational church isn't it?
JJ: Well that's what somebody said, but I, I don't know the history of the church breaking off from Pres-Calvary Presbyterian. I don't think it's Presbyterian.
BE: Well it seems to me like that they're, kind of like, I kind of believe that they're kind of interdenominational.
JJ: I think you're right.
BE: But Douglas and his wife Connie were married at Oakhurst Baptist Church, and the Reverend Moore married them, and officiated at the wedding, and then, they, that church split and they formed East Baptist and Mr. Moore went to East Baptist, and so Douglas and his wife went to East Baptist. And I don't know why they decided to leave East Baptist, but if I'm not, like I said, if I'm not mistaken, they are members at Calvary.
JJ: Um-hum.
BE: And I kind of believe that Calvary kindly, considers itself interdenominational.
JJ: Um-hum. You told me a story about Mrs. Graham teaching you a Sunday school class.
BE: Oh.
JJ: Tell me that story?
BE: Well now, I was about, probably, ten years old. My regular Sunday school teachers name was Miss Elizabeth Warsham. And I can't remember a thing in the world that Miss Elizabeth Warsham ever taught me, but she was there every Sunday, therefore she stood real high in my book because she was there, because there were so many of the teachers that weren't there regular. But for some reason Miss Elizabeth Warsham had to be out one Sunday and Mrs. Graham, Billy's mother, volunteered to be the teacher for the day. And so somewhere during the run of the Sunday school class, Mrs. Graham made the statement that nobody knew when Jesus would come back to earth to set up his millennial reign, and, and then she posed the question she says, "Nobody doesn't know, do they?" And of course me being me, up went my [laughter] up goes my hand and Mrs. Graham looked at me and she says, "Well," she says, "It seems that Bobbie Nell knows something, that none of the rest of us knows." And Mrs. Graham asked me she says, "Bobbie Nell, so would you tell us when Jesus is going to come back and set up this millennial reign?" And I said, "Well it's going to be on Judgment Day." [Laughter] My, my parents, they always called it Judgment Day and so I thought that, [laugh] I thought that I was really in on the know. [Laughter]
JJ: And what did Mrs. Graham have to say, anything?
BE: Oh I, she had a very gentle nature and everything and she just smiled and maybe laughed just a little bit. But the kids, the other kids got a big kick out of it.
JJ: How old were you when that--?
BE: I was probably about ten, maybe ten or eleven something like that. And, that's, there was all kinds of going ons that went on, down there at the Chalmers Church just like it is at every other church. We didn't have air conditioning because there wasn't no such thing as air-conditioning. And one Sunday, the Reverend W. B Lindsay was the minister down there and he was the minister there for, oh probably twenty years. In fact I think he's the only minister at Chalmer Chur--Chalmers Church that me or Billy Graham, either one could remember. Now I remember after I got married that there was a, another minister down there but I'm talking about as children, and one Sunday Dr. Lindsay was up in the pulpit just preaching away and a rooster jumped up in the window [laugh] and started flapping it's wings and crowing. And I, I probably was the first one that got hilarious [laugh] before it was all over with, everybody got hilarious and Dr. Lindsay had to gather his composure, and, [laugh] and get his sermon back together. And, but I, I never will forget that rooster, getting up in that window crowing.
JJ: What happened to it, did it just fly away?
BE: It just, it just left by itself. I, I guess my laughing scared it [laugh].
JJ: Or it wasn't Presbyterian.
BE: Or probably it wasn't Presbyterian.
JJ: Probably was a Baptist [laugh].
BE: Uh-huh. And, but, and at Chalmers Church it's like all the other Presbyterian church, of course the don't baptize they just sprinkle. And well it was always a big even when a group of children would, would get sprinkled and everything and--.
JJ: How old were the children when they get sprinkled?
BE: I kind of believe that we must have been about nine years old when we were taken into the church. And you went to a little, for about three Saturdays, you went to church and they had a little teaching session. And you had to learn the shorter catechism before you were taken into the church. And the last sermon that I happened to hear Billy preach, it was a taped service because Ruth was in the hospital at the time and I know he was by her side, but he, he didn't call Chalmers by name, but he made a good many references to the church that he was raised in. And he made the remark that they didn't even sing hymns that we only sang psalms, and that he had to remem--, had to memorize the children's catechism and the shorter catechism before he could become a member of the church. And that he did memorize them and didn't miss a, didn't miss a word. And, and then, of course, in his sermons there's, you all, all know, he goes on to say you could be a member of the church all your life and could have been confirmed and all of that, but that you still have to profess Christ before men. And that's about as much as I can remember about it.
JJ: Do you think that Billy Graham has changed in the way he preaches over the years or in what he says?
BE: You know I don't believe there's all that great a change in him, as he was younger he might have had a little bit more motion about him, but what he says and the way that he says it, is very, very, very little, little difference. And I don't understand the Bible, I'm not a Bible scholar and I don't understand the Bible, but Billy Graham came come the nearest of making you understand what a scripture is about as, as anybody that I have ever, ever heard. And really and truly, no. He, I, I don't think he has changed all of that much. He--.
JJ: Not on the inside anyway. No.
BE: No. And, but in Chalmers Memorial ARP Church, we were raised strict. And Dr. Lindsay was the minister as I told you, and Mrs. Lindsay his wife was a, she was a very, very staunch ARP, infact--.
BE: Well I don't, her daughter, Mrs. Lindsay was married before she was married to Dr. Lindsay and she was, her husband died and she was married to a, [pause] to a Douglas before she married Dr. Lindsay. And she only had one daughter and her name was Evelyn, Evelyn Douglas. And Evelyn Douglas married a Boyce, Mr. Boyce. And they only had one child, and that named that, it was a girl, and they named that girl Dell Douglas Boyce, and, but anyhow, Mrs. Lindsay was a, she was very strict. In fact, I think she was more strict than Dr. Lindsay. And she was a head of the Women's Temperance League in Charlotte. And that was a newly formed thing, or relatively new. And that was against alcohol. They were absolutely against alcohol all the way from, there wasn't no alcohol no where about. If, if you took a, if, if you had any alcohol you sure didn't let nobody down at Chalmers Church [laughter] know that you had any, had any alcohol. And, because Mrs. Lindsay she was really strict on that, on that alcohol deal.
JJ: Was that organization real popular in Charlotte then?
BE: The ARP church was a whole lot more popular than it is now. There, there's not but two or three ARP churches around now. Ebenezer ARP church is over on Old Pineville Road. And incidentally Ebenezer had a cemetery. And I think that any of the other church members of the other congregations that died, if they wanted to be buried in a church cemetery, I think they were probably buried at Ebenezer.
JJ: Um-hum.
BE: And then one of the bigger churches was Tabernacle ARP. And it's in the forks of the road of Trade and Elizabeth Avenue. It's still there, and my earliest remembering, remembrance of the minister at that church was a Dr. Ernest Neal Orr. And I remember, or I think I remember, when they were building the first ARP church, at the corner of Eleventh and Tryon Street. And it's the one that burned, and the remains still stand. And, and since I am a Methodist now, I also remember when First Methodist Church was being built, it was in 1927 and that was my mother's favorite subject, was that they was building a church in Charlotte that was going to be a whole block long. And every time we went out for a ride, well we had to go by to see how the church was coming along; that church that was going to be a whole block long.
JJ: What about the Temperance Union was that popular?
BE: Like I said, that, that thing, I, I think it kind of had it's beginning long about '20 maybe '27 or '28. Because, or maybe it's just because that's when I begin to remember a whole lot of things, but Mrs. Lindsay was gung-ho on that thing.
JJ: Did your family drink at all?
BE: Un-tape me, [laugh] un-tape me.
JJ: Oh, I--, it was.