Two months after bombing of Clinton High School, Graham calls for ‘Love’

Billy Graham, who preached the word of God throughout the world, made a stop in Clinton.

It was Dec. 14, 1958, two months after Clinton High School was mostly obliterated by a bomb, and Graham said he came, knowing the people of Clinton were misunderstood by many all over the world. He spoke of love as the answer to the world’s problems.

The Clinton Courier-News of Dec. 18, 1958, reported that the people of the community ‘took to their hearts a man who came to help make Clinton a symbol of love and understanding.”

It was snowy and cold that Sunday, Dec. 14, 1958, but some 3,000 people gathered at the still-standing Clinton High School Gymnasium to hear the “heart-stirring words” as Graham preached on John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Graham visited people who had gathered at First Baptist Church and at Clinton Grammar School before moving to the CHS gym. In the gym were several “Negroes, scattered about and were accepted ... Without question,“ the Courier-News stated.

Roger L. Ridenour, retired Clinton lawyer, said he did not go to the service. He recalled there were “outsiders” in the community, people still hoping to block integration of the school. A young teenager at the time, Ridenour said he had watched various events related to desegregation from a window in his father’s insurance office.

Graham said, “I speak as a Southerner when I say we mustn’t allow either integration or segregation to become our gospel. Either one, minus God, equals chaos. We must stand on the Gospel of Christ.”

“Whatever our view ... All civilized people are opposed to violence. Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything. May God give us cool heads and warm hearts as we face the future.”

Graham observed that there is no easy answer to the world’s problems.

“Even God did not redeem the world without sacrifice, pain and suffering. We must recognize that love and understanding cannot be enforced by bayonets. Christ could have called 12 legions of angels. His defense, but he chose the pathway of love and understanding instead of force,” Graham said.

He continued, “This is a time for bowed heads and soft voices and a time for resolutions ... And I believe Clinton can lead the way and become a symbol [of love] around the world . . . My prayer is that God is going to bless this community and bring you closer together than you have ever been.”

Graham said Clinton had been in his prayers for months. He added that it is the duty of Christian people to pray for peace in the world.

“I recognize that Clinton people are law-abiding . . . I felt a meeting like this might help the people of the world to appreciate the true Christian character of the people,” he said.

Sixty-plus ministers and lay leaders of Anderson County churches met before Graham’s visit to make arrangements.

The Rev. George Williams was general chairman. No offering was taken; private funds took care of expenses. Two people with Graham’s ministry stayed at the Park Hotel in the period before Dec. 12, Graham stayed at the Alexander Inn in Oak Ridge.

Graham was 40 years old when he came to Clinton and already was known worldwide. The millions who had heard him preach included the approximately 20 million who listened to his half-hour Sunday radio program, “Hour of Decision.”

Horace V. Wells Jr., publisher of the Courier-News, wrote in his column, “As We See It,” “Clinton, the home of so much news since 1956, is delighted to have this wonderful personality come here that he might send out ‘good news’ to people all over the world from Clinton.

“And as we thank Billy Graham for coming, we also owe thanks to Drew Pearson, the Washington newspaper columnist and radio news commentator, for initiating the nationwide program to focus attention and encourage people to protect against such incidents as the bombing of Clinton High School and places of worship elsewhere. It is Pearson’s interest in this campaign against such acts . . that interested Billy Graham in coming here.

Pearson presented the community $27,000 from more than 2,000 sources to aid in the rebuilding of CHS.

“We are sure that after Sunday, Graham will have other reasons to remember Clinton, for we know he will receive the wonderful welcome which he is entitled,” Wells wrote.

A later story in the Courier-News noted that when appreciation was expressed to Graham on behalf of Clinton residents, he (Graham) said, “I want to thank them for being so kind to me.”