Billy Graham's Tampa Roots

Billy Graham Street Preacher

Every hero has an origin story, be it Ironman, Captain America, or Batman. Billy Graham is considered a hero of the Christian faith and his origin was here in Tampa.

The Reverend Billy Graham attended Florida Bible Institute in Temple Terrace, Florida from 1937 through 1940 when he graduated. During his time in Temple Terrace, he would recount how he felt God’s call on his life to enter the ministry preaching the Gospel. Because the college campus was located along the Hillsborough River, Graham would launch his canoe into the river, paddle to a small island in the middle of the river and practice preaching to the animals. Once Reverend Graham achieved proficiency preaching to the birds and alligators on the small island in Temple Terrace, he ventured to downtown Tampa and began preaching to less fearsome creatures, the homeless.
On the corner of Franklin and Fortune streets in Tampa, Billy Graham began preaching to the down-and-out rummaging through the streets of downtown Tampa. Downtown is where the homeless congregated during the Great Depression as many sought work in downtown. If work was to be found, it was in downtown as most business originated there near the Port of Tampa, where goods and raw materials arrived and departed. Once the business owners and those that were fortunate to have employment left, downtown was abandoned to the homeless. Graham, seeking to change their lives, preached to them on the street corners, hoping it would impact their future. It did not only change their future, but Graham’s and the world’s as well.
The city of Tampa has placed a commemorative plaque signifying the origins of what would become a world-wide ministry. The plaque which states the Reverend “exhorting derelicts, drunks and skid row bums,” launched his world-wide crusades from this point. All things have humble beginnings, Billy Graham had his here, on a street corner in Tampa, preaching to people who needed it most, the down-and-outers. This story ended with him preaching to people all over the world, spiritual adviser to ten presidents often called ‘Pastor to the Presidents,’ and being one of the most well-known spiritual leaders of the twentieth century.
Graham's influence was felt in various arenas. He vehemently denounced racial segregation, insisting on his audiences at his crusades be integrated. In 1957 he invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to preach at a revival in New York, sharing the duties of preaching the Gospel. He was close personal friends with Lyndon B. Johnson, whom he encouraged to sign Civil Rights legislation into law. He also brought various denominations together, encouraging them to work together in reaching their communities. He would funnel converts from his crusades to the various denominations, helping to forge alliances. In all he accomplished, you can see that his spirit of inclusion was present through out his ministry beginning in Tampa. The seeds for his mantra “all are welcome” were planted in Tampa on the corner of Franklin and Fortune, where the fortunes of not only the homeless of Tampa were turned, but of the whole world.