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Three years later, he held a crusade in New York's Madison Square Garden that was so popular it was extended from six to 16 weeks, capped off with a rally in Times Square that packed Broadway with more than 100,000 people.
The strain of so much preaching caused the already trim Graham to lose 30 pounds by the time the event ended. As his public influence grew, the preacher's stands on the social issues of his day were watched closely by supporters and critics alike.
Still, Graham ended racially segregated seating at his Southern crusades in 1953, a year before the Supreme Court's school integration ruling, and long refused to visit South Africa while its white regime insisted on racially segregated meetings.
In a 2005 interview with The Associated Press, before his final crusade which was held in New York, Graham said he regretted that he didn't battle for civil rights more forcefully.
Graham's path to becoming an evangelist began taking shape at age 16, when the Presbyterian-reared farmboy committed himself to Christ at a local tent revival.
"I did not feel any special emotion," he wrote in his 1997 autobiography, "Just As I Am." ''I simply felt at peace," and thereafter, "the world looked different." After high school, he enrolled at the fundamentalist Bob Jones College, but found the school stifling, and transferred to Florida Bible Institute in Tampa.
"The ecumenical movement has broadened my viewpoint and I recognize now that God has his people in all churches," he said in the early 1950s.
In 1957, he said, "I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the Gospel of Christ." His approach helped evangelicals gain the influence they have today.
We have to stand in the middle, to preach to all the people, right and left," Graham said in 1981, according to Time magazine.
He resolved to take a lower profile in the political world, going as far as discouraging the Rev.
Jerry Falwell, a founder of the Moral Majority, from mixing religion and politics.
Fundamentalists at the time excoriated the preacher for his new direction, and broke with him when he agreed to work with more liberal Christians in the 1950s. He would not reject people who were sincere and shared at least some of his beliefs, Martin said.
He wanted the widest hearing possible for his salvation message.