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Interview with Eloise Rushforth

Rushforth, Eloise
Sweatt, Jan
Date of Interview: 
Graham Brothers Dairy; Myrtle Beach, SC; Leisure and family; Leisure-1920s; Religion-South; Evangelical work; Sharon Presbyterian Church; Preaching; African Americans and religion; Segregation; Ovens Auditorium; Charlotte Coliseum; Billy Graham
Childhood friend of Billy Graham and other Graham family members, Eloise Rushforth discusses Graham as a boy and later as a budding evangelist. She recalls family vacations to Myrtle Beach on which she accompanied the extended Graham family and the youthful shenanigans of Graham. Rushforth also tells of Graham`s early preaching experience at Sharon Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, where he delivered a fiery sermon to an otherwise conservative congregation. Her interview also briefly touches on issues of race relations in churches in the 1950s. Rushforth comments on her involvement in the 1972 Billy Graham Crusade as a choir member.
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed at the Museum of the New South in Charlotte, North Carolina
Levine Museum of the New South, Billy Graham Series
Collection Description: 
Jan Sweatt, an employee at the Levine Museum of the New South interviewed a variety of people for the Museum`s exhibit on Billy Graham.
Interview Audio: 
JS (Jan Sweatt): July 10, 1996. This is Jan Sweatt interviewing Eloise Rushforth in connection with the upcoming Billy Graham exhibition. Miss Rushforth?
ER (Eloise Rushforth): Well, Good morning. [Clears throat] I wanted to tell you a little bit about the Graham and the Black family. The Grahams lived out on Park Road from Charlotte, possibly about four miles, and then on down the road lived Mr. Graham`s sister and her husband, who were the Blacks. And then on down the road about three miles, I lived on Park Road. So I was in school with Billy Frank, however he was two years behind me in school. But he was in school with my sister who was Connie Wolf Gillogly now. The Blacks and the Grahams all had this very fine dairy in Charlotte. They were the leading dairymen. And Mrs. Black was Mr. Graham`s sister. So the two families ran around together a lot having a good time. And they had--. Mr. Black had five children, and the Graham`s only had four. Their youngest daughter was Laura Black, and she and myself were just inseparable. We were in school the whole twelve years together, and I was either at her house or she was down at my house. So when the families went on vacation--. [Clears throat] Excuse me. [Coughs] In the summertime, this was quite a big thing back then. Very few people had cars. A lot of people didn`t have cars. This was 1927-1928, and I was eleven and twelve. And Billy Frank would have been nine and ten. And Laura and myself were the same age. But they always had good cars, and Mr. Graham was quite a trader. He, he was always known as a sharp trader. He could get an old car and keep it a long time and fix it up and then sell it for more than he paid for it. He was, he was quite a trader. And he traded cows like he, like he did, like too. He always had fine looking breeding cows. So the Grahams and the Blacks would take off every August, and we`d go down to the beach, Myrtle Beach. Myrtle Beach was a small beach then. But I wanted to tell you that they would leave Catherine and Melvin at home to look after the dairies, and then Mr. Black always left Frank Jr. at home to look after the dairies. And so they were well take care of back home. So we always left on a Monday and came home on a Saturday. They didn`t believe in travel on Sundays. Mr. Graham and Mr. Black were both very devout Christians and they remembered the Sabbath day and to keep it holy. So when we went to the beach, we looked like the bunch of gypsies. You had to take all your linens back then. You, you took all your sheets and your pillowcases and even your pillows and all of your groceries for the week, unless you went out to buy them. We stayed at a little place that was called Weekin Inn-We-Double-E- K-I-N-Inn. And it was about a block and a half down from the old Pavilion that was torn down in later years. This is 1927. And so when we got all our chairs and linens and all the food in for a week in the car, we looked pretty junky, I can clue you. And then there was no air conditioning then, you know. We had to leave the windows rolled down all the way to Myrtle Beach, and neither one of the drivers drove very fast. Good Lord, I thought we`d never get there. It was a, you know, almost a day to go to the beach and come home. So Billy Frank was always really good to help his mother, though I remember that he, when we got down there he would just make loads of trip in and out of the house, in and out of the house. He was a runner; he liked to run all the time. And the minute he got a pillow in his hand, he`d always throw it at you, you know. He liked to fight. He was a fighter.

JS: Um-hum.
ER: And [Coughs] we had a hard time keeping up with him. But the ladies always liked to cook. They did all the cooking and had all the meals for us. We never ate out while we went to the beach at all. I, I don`t think Billy Frank ever closed his eyes during the blessings either. I always remember if I opened mine, he was always looking at whoever was praying and giggling, you know. He just was a big tease. And then he wanted to--. He couldn`t wait to get to the beach, but the parents wouldn`t let him go until somebody was going to go and supervise us. I think that Laura and I were, we were in the age beginning to want to look like, you know, somebody with a nice tan that had been to the beach, so we would oil ourselves up, you know. You had to use Johnson`s Baby Oil then. And we`d oil ourselves up and get our bathing suits on and get ready to go down to the beach and the next thing we`d know, we`d be lying out on a beach towel. And we`d be trying to get our suntan and here would come Billy Frank with a bucket of sand and pour all over us. Water everywhere, you know, and he just got the biggest kick out of that. And then he would run away and hide. And his mother had a switch she kept on top of the, the old cabinet that was in the place. I never saw her switch him at the beach, but I know she threatened to several times because he`d run and hide somewhere, and you wouldn`t see him for a long time. And he was tall and had real long legs and very skinny. And he was never still a minute. He was just the most active young child I think I have ever been around. And then we spent hours, you know, building our dream house of what we wanted a house to look for when we got older in the sand. And we had it all fixed up and wanted our parents to come down and see it. And before we could get it done, here he comes and jumps right in the middle of it and tears it all to pieces. So [Laughter] he was quite a mess. I called the Graham`s Aunt Morrow and Uncle Frank, because Laura called them that. And so I was just kind of like one of their children. There were two of their children that were along, Billy Frank and Jean, and then the Blacks just had Laura and myself. So there were four. But the Grahams were very strict with their discipline. They, they really meant business. They never spoke to them but one time. But Billy Frank was a great fighter; he just loved to pick a fight. He loved to have pillow fights in the bed, and he, he could just--. And always he had a ball. He was always throwing a ball at you, or he wanted you to come catch with him, you know. "Come play ball with us." But Laura and myself, weren`t up to it [Clears throat] [Coughs] [Clears throat] much playing ball, so we didn`t like his activities. But we put up with him anyhow. He, he had real blue eyes, and he was, he was a cute kid. He really was a cute kid. I look at some of my great-grandchildren now and I think, you know, when they were--. Billy Frank was about that age. They remind me of him. Have you ever heard the story about when he was beginning to preach down at Sharon Church and found a church out there? Have you heard that story? Has
JS: No.
ER: Edna Brown told you any story?
JS: No.
ER: Well, this will be a little bit later on. I don`t know. I can`t remember what year it was, but it was probably about 1938. I had never heard anybody shouting before, and I know the people in our church hadn`t either. But the story goes around that we, we had an old lady in our church, colored lady, who came to the church, and she always sat up in the balcony because she was black and all the black people sat up there. This was before segregation. So Lucinda Wallace, her name was, she lived just about a half a block around from the church behind the old Kirkpatrick house. And she always was at church with a long dress on, always sitting in the balcony. And so back, probably around 1960, I guess this might have been, Billy Graham wanted to preach somewhere in Charlotte. He`d been away to college a couple of years maybe, maybe not but one year. I`m not sure about that. But anyhow, he had a hard time finding some place to preach because he was such an evangelist that not many churches had that evangelistic type going on in their churches as yet, you know. Maybe the Baptists would but not Presbyterians; they were much more reserved. But anyhow, Billy Frank came back to Charlotte and this was probably in--. [Pause] Well, I don`t know exactly. I said about 1960. So he came back to Charlotte, and he kept looking for a church to preach in. He hadn`t preached in Charlotte. This was his hometown of course. And so he came out to Sharon, and he had a, a cousin who was Floyd Smith, who was an elder in our church at Sharon and he was also choir director and he was superintendent. Mr. Black was superintendent of Sunday school. So there, Billy Frank had an uncle and a cousin, and he wanted to get them to ask the session if he could come preach at Sharon some Sunday. Right away. He wanted to preach right away. He was fiery. And his uncle asked him, said; "Well now, Billy Frank, you not going to preach on fire and damnation are you?" And he said, "Oh, no. I`m just gonna, I`m gonna preach you a good sermon." So he said, "Well, I`ll go to the session and ask them." So he went to the session and asked the church, and Mr. Little was in our church for thirty-three years, a Presbyterian preacher. They never moved if they found a good spot, you know. And so they`d asked Mr. Little if he could come and preach, and they said well, they, they thought it`d be all right. So he came and preached for them. And he did preach hell, fire and damnation, and Lucinda was sitting up in the balcony, and she started mumbling, you know, during the sermon. And her feet started kind of shuffling, and you could hear the floor cracking in the old church. And [Laughter] the more hotter he got, the more she began--. She got up and she started raising her hands, you know, to heaven, and she started stomping the floor and she really went to shouting. So they had to get a couple of elders to get a hold of her and put her down in the seat. But that was the first time the Presbyterians had heard any shouting, I assure you. [Laughter] And so Mr. Black had a session meeting, and so somebody said, "Now, Mr. Black, said, "Did you know this boy was going to preach like that?" And he said, "Well, I didn`t know. I had never heard Billy preach." And Mr. Little spoke up and he says, "Well listen here, that boy had to get a start somewhere, and he`s getting it at--. He got it at Sharon Church." And so that was the end of that. The session didn`t say anything else. So that was, I thought, a really good story about him. And he`s been to Sharon and preached several times. Well, let`s see. That kind of takes us down to about all I know about him. I think that that`s just about--. [RECORDING INTERRUPTED, THEN RESUMED]
ER: I want to say a word about the crusade, Billy Graham`s crusade in Charlotte.
JS: What year was that?
ER: Well, we think it was 1972. I was given a songbook as was all the other choir members who sang in the choir. Different churches furnished so many people, and I think we had eight from Sharon Church to go. [Clears throat] We`d leave home about an hour and a half before the meeting and practice. Cliff Barrows was a great guy to want you to practice. And also he sent us a list of names that, of the songs that we would sing. So we had practice beforehand. We didn`t wear any kind of choir robes; everybody just dressed as they were. And it was a great meeting. It was out at old Ovens Auditorium, still Ovens Auditorium, in the old Coliseum. And I remember that we met at the church, and all went in two cars. And we didn`t get home until around eleven o`clock. That was late for the country people. [Laughter] But it was a very enjoyable time, and I think we got a lot out of the service. And I don`t think it was but for four nights. It maybe lasted longer. If it did I just went four nights. [RECORDING INTERRUPTED, THEN RESUMED]
ER: OK. I got married right out of high school, and so I lost him then for, really until he came back to Sharon to preach. I had not--. I had known that he was going to Wheaton College and was getting an education. And he was going to be a preacher. We knew that. But I just don`t have any fill-in for that space between the years.
JS: So you knew him through high school?
ER: Through high school. That`s right.
JS: Any funny stories in high school?
ER: No. [Laughter] I can`t think of any. Virginia Stewart Shepherd may be able to tell you some funny stories since she was in his class. I`m sure they had a lot of funny things going on as high school kids do. [RECORDING INTERRUPTED, THEN RESUMED]
JS: You know what I`m going to do?