Billy Graham, Hip Youth Leader

As Billy Graham’s family, friends, and foes are reflecting on his life, many sides of him are being discussed and analyzed. This morning his grandson Boz Tchividjian posted this photo of Graham cutting up in a classroom.

Just before I saw this tweet, historian and former archivist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Jim Lutzweiler sent along the same picture with the back story. Jim said the photo came from “the private collection of Randy Miller, Research librarian at Liberty University.” About the scene, he said:

William Bell Riley was a big name in the 1920s–1940s. He was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Minneapolis whose members included George Pillsbury of the flour family. Riley built a college for training young people. He came to North Carolina in the early 1920s to fight against evolution in the schools, a controversy that preceded the Scopes Trial in Tennessee. By 1947 Riley was dying. he needed a successor. At that time Billy Graham was a rising star in the movement called Youth for Christ. Youth had always been Riley’s passion. In short, Riley picked Billy Graham to succeed him in the presidency of his school. This was two years before Graham’s famous crusade in Los Angeles. Billy only presided over the school for a couple years before it began to fold and he chose full time evangelism. By the way, one of the students at Northwestern in those days was a Roger Peterson. I knew Roger. He told me that in chapel one day Billy told the students Christ would return prior to 1955, as Christ was to come within 7 years of the rebirth of Israel (i.e., 1948).

The fellow at the lectern in the picture is Richard V. Clearwaters. He had hoped to succeed Riley but Riley did not pick him. So he started Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and Central Baptist Seminary from both of which schools I graduated.

The first president of Pillsbury College was a fellow named Monroe Parker. Billy Graham had once told Parker that he, Billy, had converted under Parker’s preaching, not under Mordecai Ham. Parker told us this in chapel and he also published it in his autobiography.

So Clearwaters would have been the first Pillsbury Doughboy (sorry).

Thanks to Jim for the context. He added that Graham wasn’t much older than the students and related to them easily. I wonder if he ever ate any goldfish (you’ll get that if you grew up fundamentalist).

"That would appear to be the over-arching truth."

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