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Remarks at Ceremonies Honoring Billy Graham in Charlotte, North Carolina.

October 15, 1971

Mr. Chairman, all of the distinguished guests who have come from Washington and other places to this meeting, and friends of Billy Graham:

It is a very great honor for me to be here, and also a very great challenge. Charlie Jonas 1 mentioned, as I came into the room, that I had spoken in this hall before, and I have, and in thousands, as a matter of fact, across this Nation, across the world. I must say, to follow Billy Graham is the hardest assignment I have ever had in all .those speeches.

1 Representative Charles Raper Jonas of North Carolina.

I have very much in common with him. He has mentioned some of those things. I remember particularly, and I am proud to mention it here on a visit to North Carolina, that I, like he, have a North Carolina background. The 3 years that I spent in North Carolina, in Durham at Duke, I well remember; and my law degree and what I know about the law I owe to this State and to that great university. And I am one of the few lawyers in the country who is not a candidate to be appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

But as a result of that experience, also in the middle of the depression to which Billy Graham has referred, I have friends that have been lifelong friends in this State and throughout this Nation, friendships for which I am grateful.

In thinking of what to say on behalf of the Nation and on behalf of all of you out here, thousands of you who want to pay your tribute to Billy Graham, I tried to put myself in his place, to think of what he would want me to say. And I thought that, first he would think of the fact that he is being honored today; but he knows that without many others he could not have stood here as he did, he could not be recognized as he was, as the evangelist who has been heard by more people in more parts of the world than any in the history of the world.

This is the season in which we are all interested in sports. A great quarterback will be the hero after a game on a Saturday or a Sunday, but he will be the first to say, "Had it not been for that blocking that I had, I would have been sacked a few times, and we would have lost," or "If it had not been for the defense, or a couple of great pass receivers, we would not have won." In other words, the quarterback who is written up as the hero will say, "The team made it possible."

In the World Series, a pitcher who shuts out the other team will be a hero the next day, but he would be the first to say, "If it hadn't been for those marvelous defensive plays that were made by the shortstop and the second baseman and the first baseman, and that catch against the wall, and if it hadn't been for the fact we also had a pretty good hitting team, I couldn't have been the hero." So the great pitcher will say: "It is because of the team that I was able to do it."

In the times I have talked to Billy Graham about his ministry and the enormous success of his crusades in America and around the world, how well organized they are, he always gives the credit to the team. So I pay tribute to Billy Graham's team today.

First to his family team: Many in his family I could mention, but two women who are on this stage, particularly, I think, have affected his life--his mother and his wife. They are strong women. Let me just say this: We all think of Billy Graham as a strong man, but as I look at the Graham family, if I am asked who are the stronger, Billy Graham or the women in his family, I will say the women every time.

Speaking as Billy Graham might, I can say that the Bible tells us that when we look at the strength of the two sexes, that God made man out of the soft earth, but he made women out of a hard rib. The woman is the stronger of the two.

I think of Billy's mother. I had the privilege of having a drink in her house-iced tea--and she had the privilege of having a drink in the house that we now live in. I say we live in it. Those who are in the Presidency come and go; the house is always there. And we remember the occasion that Mrs. Graham graced that house for one of our worship services. We were reminded what a wonderful background he had.

I think of his wife, Ruth, who has been by his side, born in China of missionary parents, lived there 300 miles from Shanghai for 17 years, and now giving him the support, the strength that any man who is in the arena needs, needs when he goes home.

So I think he would want me to pay tribute, and I do it now, to his family team, and also to the Graham organization team. You hear a great choir like this. You think of the fact that the Graham team goes into city after city, and they can mobilize choirs like this, even bigger than this. You think of the organization, hundreds and hundreds of able people that he has been able to inspire.

And so, Billy Graham, the minister, the top evangelist, the top preacher in the world, we honor today. We also honor his team, his family team, his organization team.

Now I would like to speak of what this Nation owes to Billy Graham, and how important his ministry at this time in our history is to America and to the world. He mentioned the fact that I shall be making a journey to Mainland China. You also have heard of the fact that I will be making a journey to the Soviet Union. And as these trips take place, and as we end the longest and most difficult war in America's history, or in any nation's history for that matter, hope springs up in America, as it can, as it should, that we may be seeing an era in which we can have peace, peace not just for a year, or 5 years, or 10 years, but maybe for a generation, maybe longer than that. That is what we are trying to build.

Hope springs up that peoples that have been divided and have not known each other may get to know each other, that our children may have what we do not have: an open world in which millions of people living in other lands can have communication with the millions who will live in the United States.

These are ideals; they are not easy to come by. The announcement of trips, and even the negotiations that take place between nations that have very great differences in philosophy, do not solve or end those differences. But at least we can take some comfort in the fact that we start a process, putting it one way, of negotiation rather than confrontation; putting it another way, we have differences, but maybe we are starting a process in which we will talk about our differences in the future and not fight about them, and then our people, our young people, can grow up in a world of peace.

This is a great goal for America and a great goal for the world. And America's leadership--whether we, as the leader of the free world, can have the wisdom, the strength, in every way, to provide that leadership will determine perhaps whether we are going to have peace in the world and in America in the next generation or maybe for the next period after that into the next century.

So we look at America. Can America meet this test? Are we strong enough, strong enough to provide the leadership that is required of us in the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years, so that we can build a world of peace?

As we look at America, we see many assets. We are the richest nation in the world. Anyone who has traveled abroad comes back knowing that we are very fortunate to live in America. There is more freedom, there is more opportunity, there is more wealth here than in any other nation. We have many, many problems, but we all must recognize that the greatness of America is that we have a process through which we can correct what is wrong, and as we try to correct what is wrong, let us never forget what is right about America, because there is very much which is right about America.

It would be rather easy to look at America's wealth, to look at America's strength militarily, and to sit back and say, "of course we will meet the challenge."

But then we read the pages of history and we find, as Billy Graham has already inferred in his own message, that the wealth of a nation or the military might of a nation may not be enough in determining whether that nation will survive.

I know many of you have visited Washington. I hope everybody here who is listening to me in this hall or on television or radio will visit our beautiful Nation's Capital and particularly drive through the Capital at night, see the statue of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, go down to the Jefferson Memorial, the White House, all now lighted; go, too, by the Archives. of all the buildings in Washington, to me, it is the most impressive--impressive, first, because that Declaration of Independence that was signed here, as Billy pointed out, 2 months before it was signed in Philadelphia, is there. The Constitution is there. The Bill of Rights is there.

But at night as you see the Archives, that gray, massive building with its columns, one gets the impression that they will last forever, that building will last. It may. It is a strong building; they are powerfully built columns in marble. But as I see those columns at night--and I have many times driven by at night I think of times that I have been in Rome and have seen the columns, the ruins in the Roman Forum. I think of walking on the Acropolis and seeing the great Grecian columns of the ancient civilization of Greece. I think of Samarkand in what is now a part of Russia, what was then part of the Persian Empire, and the magnificent blue columns rising up over a dead civilization.

I read the history of those civilizations, and I find that in the case of Greece, in the case of Rome, in the case of ancient Persia, that their civilizations died not when they were weak and not when they were poor, but when they were rich, when they were the best educated, and also when they thought they were strong militarily. They died because as they became wealthy, they became soft; as they became better educated, without principle, they became weak. And as a result, other civilizations, not as well-educated, not as wealthy, not really as strong, overran them.

And so the lesson of the past for America today is that we need, of course-and we can be thankful that we do have a country that is wealthy--we need certainly education for all of our people, and better education, and opportunity in the years ahead, because without wealth and without education we cannot do the great things for our people at home and provide the leadership abroad that we can provide. But we must also remember that those things alone are not enough.

It is the character of a nation that determines whether it survives. It is the spiritual and moral strength of its people that determine whether it survives. Where does that come from? We have here distinguished Members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives and the Governor of this State and the President of the United States and the Secretary of the Treasury. We, as Government officials, cannot decree that a nation shall be morally and spiritually strong. Legislators cannot legislate it.

The moral and spiritual strength of our country must come from each individual American. It comes from his home, it comes from his school, but most of all, it can and it must come from his church, from his religious faith.

We in this Nation have the great heritage of different religious faiths. Each chooses his own way. But what is important is that we have it. And what Billy Graham has done for millions of Americans is to inspire in individuals that religious faith which means moral strength and character, without which a nation, no matter how rich it is or how strong it is, cannot be great.

So today, this afternoon, I want to say to Billy Graham's friends here in this city and in this county and in this State which did so much for him, where his roots are, who helped to build his character, I want to say to you that when the history of this last third of this century is written, and the contribution that America made--and I am confident it wall make it--to peace in the world and freedom for most of the world, when that history is written, it will be written about what Presidents did and what Generals did and about what businessmen did or legislators did. But it is very possible that what will have been most important in making sure that America meets the great challenge of leadership, leadership for peace and freedom in the world, will be because of what a man from this county, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, did--his message, simple, direct, moving, inspiring in young people, in older people, that religious faith, that morality, that strength of character that America had when it was young, that we still have today, but that it is most difficult to keep as a nation becomes wealthy, particularly at a time that it has great responsibilities, as we have today.

I want all of you to know that as I stand here today, after the wonderful welcome that Billy received as we drove through the streets of Charlotte, that I have great faith about the future of America.

I have faith in it not because we are the strongest nation in the world, which we are, and not because we are the richest nation in the world, which we are, but because there is still, in the heartland of this country--and the heartland of America is in every State of America-there is still a strong religious faith, a morality, a spiritual quality which makes the American people not just a rich people or a strong people, but makes the American people a people with that faith which enables them to meet the challenge of greatness.

I thank Billy Graham's hometown and the people of his community for what you have done in producing this fine man. You have contributed to America and the world one of the great leaders of our time.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 3:25 p.m. in the Charlotte Coliseum.

"Billy Graham Day" was sponsored and organized by the citizens of Charlotte where the evangelist was born.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at Ceremonies Honoring Billy Graham in Charlotte, North Carolina. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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