Billy Graham first led a crusade in the Twin Cities in 1950. He was 31 years old and had already filled the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. It took 20 minutes for the 11,000-seat Minneapolis Auditorium to fill up. Another 11,000 were turned away.
“This is Minneapolis’ hour of decision,” Graham told the audience. “This may be the last campaign Minneapolis will ever have.”
It wasn’t, of course. He returned in triumph for three more crusades in the Twin Cities — in July 1961, July 1973 and June 1996.
So immense was his popularity in Minneapolis that he was asked to conduct a service to close the 1956 Aquatennial, Minneapolis’ summer festival.
Film clips of the 1961 crusade show a vigorous, broad-chested, wavy-haired Graham, gesturing almost constantly. It’s not his appearance alone that indicates immediately that this was decades ago; so does that of his audience. Short-haired men were in white shirts and ties; many of the women wore hats.
In 1973 he encountered criticism. Some called his theology “simplistic.” Also, some black ministers criticized him for not doing enough for civil rights and the poor. He met with the ministers and defended his public stance for civil rights. Women objected to his intrepretation of the Bible, which held that the husband should “guide and govern” the home, and clergy and lay people deplored his failure to speak out against the U.S. bombing in Cambodia.
Nonetheless, the Twin Cities newspapers in 1973 were also full of people’s admiration.
The 1996 crusade was perhaps his most successful. The Metrodome was full every night, and on the last two nights, record crowds spilled into the streets.