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Interview with Tommy R. Lawing

Lawing, Tommy R.
Sweatt, Jan
Date of Interview: 
Catawba River; Billy Graham Crusade of 1957 and 1958; Hawthorne Lane Methodist Church
Charlotte businessman T. R. Lawing talks about his involvement in the Billy Graham crusade in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1958. He shares his experience of singing with the crusade at the same time as he was raising three small children and starting his Real Estate Company in the late 50s.
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed at Museum of the New South, Charlotte, NC
Levine Museum of the New South, Billy Graham Series
Interview Audio: 
TL (Tommy R. Lawing): I am Tommy Lawing Sr. I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. My parents were Algie and Saloma Lawing. The Lawings have been in Mecklenburg County for over two hundred years. Started up on Beattie`s Ford Road at the Catawba River and still have ancestors there. I married my high school sweetheart and at the time of the Billy Graham crusade in 1957 Catherine and I were the parents of three children and just starting in a new business T. R Lawing Realty, Incorporated that we started in September of 1957. Have been in the real-estate business since that time, have three children and six grandchildren that I`m very proud of. Yes, you go ahead.
JS (Jan Sweatt): Thank you sir. Today is June seventeenth 1996 and this is Jan Sweatt with Mr. Tommy Lawing Sr.
TL: That`s correct.
JS: And he`s sharing with us his experiences in, I believe it was 1958, the Billy Graham Crusade. He`s brought a scrapbook he will share it and discuss.
TL: My wife was raising three small children at this time, and so she had some time to do things at home and clip everything out of the newspaper. She also sang in the choir as I did. She sang soprano and I sang tenor. I have been involved in singing all of my life since singing as a soprano child I guess, I sang in high school and church choruses. Tenors are always needed so a tenor can always get in any choir. But at the Billy Graham Crusade then, and I`m sure now, they will welcome anyone that has an interest in, in singing and coming to be a part of it. This is a, these clippings from the Observer show September 22, 1958. One headline says, "14,375 Came." Always a very good crowd. I was interested in seeing all of the people, the various people that I had known that were there working. Various people that were doing some of the same things that they would be doing now, Mr. Carl McCraw I believe, was interested in the financial end of it and a friend of mine told me this the other day, Ted Sumner that he was there at these, but he was down in the back counting the money and never came out to see what was happening. So maybe I was fortunate to be in the choir and to sing under the leaders and so forth there.
JS: How did you join the choir, was it through your church that you became aware of--?
TL: Yes that`s right. The promoters, or the front-runners of the Billy Graham Crusade would come to the various different churches and talk to the choirs and ask that they would come. Very little else [clears throat] required of you, just to be there and you, you got in because you had a, a button. And I have the button, the same button that I wore at that time for the crusade. And you had that button on and you go to go in to sit in a special seat in the choir.
JS: Everyone seems very moved by the choir. In fact Dr. Dean Colvard talks specifically about the music and how special it was.
TL: Singing under Bev, singing with Beverly Shea and under Cliff Barrows was really an experience and I have here the book that we used [clears throat] that time and some of the other people interested in the music Ted Smith was the organist and Ethel Waters was one of the soloists that was there at that time. And the book, the thing that seems to be stand out [clears throat] in my memory more than anything else was what you closed every service with was "Just as I Am" and you would sing that [clears throat] dozens of times until everybody had, had stopped coming forward. And that`s found on page twelve of this little book. We have special copies, souvenir editions of, "How Great Thou Art" that we used. It was really just beginning to come into prominence about that time. As a matter of fact, I think copyright on this particular music is 1955, so it was, was very new at that time and of course now is one of the most famous numbers that, that is around. [Whispers] I don`t know what else you want to--? [Tape stops and then begins again.] The coliseum was pretty new at the time that this crusade was held there and on some nights my children would come [clears throat] and I do remember that on one occasion my wife and our three children all did go down front. [Pause] I don`t remember being particularly involved in anything else, Jan, at that time it was going on, it was mainly that I was working trying to get a business started, raising three small children and we`d go to this every night that it was there and, and it really meant a lot to us to be there and see the people from all around. They would come in bus, busloads it seems as though that coliseum was filled in every night and I really enjoyed. Billy was very fiery at that time, he was a young, good-looking fellow and Cliff Barrows was a good-looking, handsome young man that led the singing. And of course is still with the Billy Graham Crusade, and Bev Shea was a very big part of it, having several solos each night. To be a part of the choir was really not very time consuming other than the actual services that were there. You would be there perhaps a half an hour early before the service would start and you would do your practicing with Cliff Barrows there, so you did not have to go other nights and a lot of practice. And practically everyone that sings in the choir does sing in church choirs. I sing in Hawthorne Lane Methodist Church choir and have all my life, and enjoy sitting there and seeing who`s at church on that Sunday and that same type of experience was an interesting experience at the Coliseum because you would look out and see people that you knew from your church and knew in business. I knew friends from high school and of course back that time, the town was much smaller and you would know a lot more of the people that would be at a meeting. It`s kind of like we used to say in high school, we could go to the Carolina Theatre and you would know half of the people that were there. And now you go to a theatre, of course, and know very few that may be there. And the same experience was in this particular crusade. We would, we would know a lot of people that were there and recognized them. Had friends that were ushers, I remember a fellow realtor by the name of Delacy Wyman who was always a snappy kind of a dresser and enjoyed being the usher at his church and he enjoyed the crusade because he got to see a lot of his friends and he would take them to their seats and just be a real good handshaking, public relation, friendly-type of fellow for the crusade.
JS: So it was not only a religious experience it was a social--.
TL: That`s correct.
JS: Community type of experience.
TL: That is correct. Very much so.