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"So, in other words, Graham urged the President to adopt a policy Nixon had already rejected because it was too brutal."
"Exactly. But that's just the start," he said as he walked to the TV screen.
"This is footage of a 1965 revival in the Houston Astrodome -- President Johnson was there. Billy came down hard on Vietnam War protesters." Paul pushed a button, and there was Graham, looking disgusted and chiding demonstrators, saying, "It seems the only way to gain attention today is to organize a march and protest something."
"Wow, that takes me back."
"Look at this next exhibit. I thought for sure this one would be included upstairs, since it's about a famous Charlotte event."
"You mean the Billy Graham Day mess in 1971?"
"The one and only."
One look at the exhibit, and I could see why it had been sent to the basement. It was mostly a collection of large photographs of events from that day, October 15, 1971, at the Charlotte Coliseum (now Cricket Arena): the packed house; Graham alongside Strom Thurmond and his "special guest," President Nixon; Secret Service members manhandling protesters and tearing up their tickets to the supposedly open, public event. A small glass case contained a memo from Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman stating that the protesters would help mobilize support for the President in the South; and replicas of the cross-shaped sandwiches served at a reception that day, hosted by the man who had thought up Billy Graham Day, WBT media mogul and Chamber honcho Charles Crutchfield.
In the middle of the exhibit was a life-sized polymer statue of Nixon, arms raised in two V-signs. A 10-inch replica of Billy Graham, holding a crucifix made of folded dollar bills, hung out of Nixon's coat pocket.
"Holy shit," I exclaimed, but truth be told, at that point in his career, Graham was in Nixon's pocket. He had endorsed Tricky Dick in 1968 and would again in 1972. White House memos make it clear they considered Billy Graham Day a perfect complement to Nixon's "Southern Strategy," which played to the region's racial prejudice and right-wing Christian leanings. The Charlotte Observer summed up the day by editorializing, "And while it was, indeed, Graham's Day, it might as well have been the beginning of President Nixon's campaign."
"If you like that exhibit," said Paul, "you'll probably enjoy this last one. I think this is the one that put Frankie over the edge and got me fired." He pulled off the dusty tarp and flipped a switch.
Animatronic Nixon and Graham sat facing each other in leather chairs before a large background photo of the Oval Office. The two figures began to speak, the men's actual voices coming from the automatons' mouths.
"We edited it a little," explained Paul, "but this is their actual conversation; we got it from a White House tape at the National Archives."
Nixon: "Newsweek is totally -- it's all run by Jews and dominated by them in their editorial pages. The New York Times, The Washington Post, totally Jewish, too."
Graham: "This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain."
Nixon: "You believe that?"
Graham: "Yes, sir."
Nixon: "So do I. I can't ever say that, but I believe it."
Graham: "No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something ... a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me ... They don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country."
There was a 30-second pause. And then the taped conversation began again.
"Whew," I gasped. "You really expected the museum to display that?"
"It's Billy's and Nixon's own words, and I thought Frankie wanted the truth."
"Yeah, I've made that kind of mistake before myself, but ..."
Out of the blue, things started getting hazy. I tried to get my bearings, and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor of the gift shop.
"Sir, are you all right?" a female voice asked.
I looked up into the face of a young gift shop clerk. "Uhh, I think so," I said.
"Well, that's a relief. You fell and were out for about a minute. Can I help you up?"
"Huh? Uhh, I think I can make it."
"That's great, sir. Now, if I could ask you to leave ... you're scaring away our customers."