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The late Rev. Billy Graham is immortalized in a statue unveiled in the U.S. Capitol

A bronze statue of the late Rev. Billy Graham was unveiled Thursday at the U.S. Capitol, immortalizing Christianity’s most prolific evangelist, once known as “America’s Pastor,” in the halls of Congress on behalf of his native North Carolina.

Graham’s likeness, which depicts the Charlotte-born preacher with his archetypal gesture toward an open Bible in his hand, was unveiled at National Statuary Hall during a meeting attended by House Speaker Mike Johnsongovernor Roy Cooperformer Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress and state legislatures and Graham’s family.

The 7-foot-tall statue is one of two that North Carolina and each state will display in the hall or elsewhere in the Capitol to honor notables in their history. The process to replace Graham’s statue with one of North Carolina’s began nine years ago.

“Billy Graham finally takes his rightful place on these hallowed grounds of American democracy,” Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, said at the dedication ceremony. Like other speakers, Johnson recalled the personal importance that Graham’s ministry of preaching the Christian gospel had on them and their families: “Billy Graham is such an important figure in my life, and he is in all of our lives. ”

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Graham, who lived in the mountain community of Montreat for most of his adult life, died in 2018 at the age of 99. Graham was the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, personally preaching to nearly 215 million people worldwide, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic. Association. His last large-scale gatherings, known as crusades, took place in New York in 2005.

An advisor to presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush, Graham influenced both the political and spiritual realms during his career as a minister. As a symbol of that connection, Graham’s body had been placed in honor in the Capitol Rotunda after his death, marking only the fourth civilian to receive the award at the time.

The North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation in 2015 asking a congressional committee to ultimately approve an effigy of Graham for display in the hall. According to the rules, a person’s statue can only be erected posthumously.

The ceremony speakers focused on Graham’s dedication to preaching the Christian message, his humility and integrity, and a legacy of service for generations to come.

The Rev. Franklin Grahamthe evangelist’s son, said his father would have felt a little uncomfortable with all the attention if he had been there Thursday “because he would want the focus to be on who he was preaching. He would want the focus to be upon the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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The Graham statue replaces one of North Carolina’s early 20th-century governor, Charles Aycock, who, while known as an advocate for education, fell from favor due to his ties to the then-white supremacist movement.

Although not a social activist, Graham integrated his Southern Crusades in 1953, a year before the Supreme Court’s ruling on school integration. And he refused to visit South Africa for a long time, while the white regime insisted on racially segregated meetings. Graham said later in his life that he regretted not fighting more vigorously for civil rights.

“We recognize that he is a better representation of our state than the statue it replaces, which brought back memories of a painful history of racism,” said Cooper, a Democrat, who recalled seeing Graham as a youngster in a stadium in Raleigh heard. “Not that Pastor Graham was perfect. He would have been the first to tell us that… but he believed, like many of us, that salvation exists.”

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The Graham statue was created by Charlotte-based artist Chas Fagan and bronzed in the state. The base, also made of local granite, is engraved with two verses from the Book of John that highlight Graham’s evangelistic ministry.

The other North Carolina statue commissioned for the National Statuary Hall is a likeness of Civil War Governor Zebulon Vance, who was also a Confederate military officer and U.S. senator.

Graham helped build evangelicalism into a force in American life in the 20th century, while forging powerful connections with Christian believers around the world, including those in communist countries. His ministry was characterized by the use of mass media, including a daily newspaper column, network radio, and prime-time broadcasts of his crusades.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, said he hopes Graham’s ability to bridge differences will filter down to elected officials today.

“I hope that when members of Congress walk past his statue, they reflect on the standards of faith, ethics and decency that he embodied during his extraordinary life,” Tillis said. “I believe his presence here at the Capitol can help us find opportunities to unite around what makes our nation great.”

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