For 10 days in September 1967, Billy Graham cast his spell at Kansas City’s old Municipal Stadium. A 5,000-voice choir sang, as did gospel and jazz stars.
In all, 364,000 people came to his Heart of America Crusade — 53,000 of them in one record-setting night.
He “is the top evangelistic salesman of his message in our era,” wrote The Kansas City Star. And his influence continued for decades to come.
Graham, who died on Wednesday at 99, paid several visits to Kansas City over the years, including three crusades — the last one at Arrowhead Stadium in 2004.
At a press conference before that first Kansas City crusade, Graham said he was not here to talk about political issues such as the war in Vietnam. But his message could not help but touch on social issues of the day, which in 1967 were churning.
“Things have never been so good in the country,” Graham said, but in many ways “things have never been so bad.”
Graham said the gospel was the answer to the “screaming, rioting, tearing down and looting” of the previous three years in American cities.
He said Jesus had predicted lawlessness, rebellion and rioting would come near the end days.
“We haven’t got there yet,” Graham said. “But we are getting mighty close.”
The crusade coincided with a gathering in Kansas City of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. President Lyndon Johnson came and told them he did not think America’s morality was in decline. Graham did.
“I’m told now that the sex act is right on the screen in some art theaters,” he said.
While he was in town, Graham visited Harry Truman and recalled when he had been a guest at the Truman White House.
Kansas City Mayor Ilus Davis made Graham an honorary citizen and gave him a key to the city.
Graham said few cities in the country had the religious background that Kansas City had.
“There are no people in America better equipped to help lead the nation back to God than the people of Kansas and Missouri,” he said.
At the close of every day of the crusade, Graham invited people down to his podium at second base to publicly welcome Christ into their hearts. Thousands responded.
That concerned groundskeeper George Toma, who said a Billy Graham crusade could do more damage to grass than a rodeo. And the Minnesota Twins would be in Kansas City the night after the crusade ended, hoping to clinch the pennant. On top of that, the Chiefs were to be televised in color that year and “it certainly wouldn’t look nice on color TV for a lot of grass to be killed out,” Toma said.
Graham returned in 1970 to speak to about 1,500 ministers and laypeople at the National Congress on Evangelism at St. Stephen Baptist Church. He spoke of three possible futures if the moral decline of America continued: dictatorship, world war or a religious revival. He said he was optimistic.
But he returned to St. Stephen in 1975 and warned that a war between the West and the oil producers of the Middle East could lead to Armageddon.
In 1978 the Billy Graham Mid-America Crusade descended upon Kemper Arena for eight nights before moving to Royals Stadium for its finale.
In 1981, here to address an evangelism convention, Graham visited people at Truman Medical Center who were wounded in the Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse.
“This tragedy here in Kansas City has aroused the world,” Graham said.
Graham’s last public visit to Kansas City was a 2004 crusade at Arrowhead Stadium. He was then 85 years old, recuperating from two falls and dealing with Parkinson’s disease. The only other crusade on his schedule that year was in Los Angeles. Graham said he came because Kansas City had been “on his heart.”
Rain on the first night ended as soon as Graham approached the podium.
In a letter to the editor, Jennifer Murphy of Kansas City, Kan., wrote that Graham had seemed a little under the weather, “but that did not stop him from presenting a moving sermon to the thousands here. He still was able to motivate that many.”