By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Back in September of 2018, State Senator Rusty Crowe was on hand as a section of North State of Franklin Road was dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.
Last Wednesday morning, Crowe was on the south side of Johnson City as the interchange at Exit 24 of Interstate 26 that crosses over University Parkway was dedicated to the memory of the late Rev. Billy Graham. While Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Parkway doesn’t intersect with the Billy Graham Memorial Interchange, Crowe spent some time last Wednesday morning reflecting on how the legacies of both men are intertwined.
“We have such misunderstanding racially and socially and from a community perspective,” Crowe said. “I think what (Graham) preached is very relevant today as we memorialize this interchange for him. He preached equality and justice and opportunity. He and Martin Luther King were friends, and they spoke about that many times.”
Crowe was joined by Graham’s grandson, William Franklin Graham IV, as well as Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock and Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy. Crowe helped pass the legislation that led to the renaming of the MLK Parkway and the interchange that now bears Graham’s name.
“Our entire legislative delegation was a part of this, and the governor signed it,” Crowe said. “We’re proud we were able to do this.”
Practically speaking, the stretch of interstate at Exit 24 serves as a gateway to Western North Carolina, where Graham’s ministry was based. William Graham said his grandfather would be humbled by the honor, and he reflected on the special connection between his grandfather and the people of Tennessee.
“They loved my grandfather, and that’s what I appreciate,” Graham said. “The were impacted, not by Billy Graham, but by God.”
Graham said some of his grandfather’s most important ministry took place in Tennessee, including a stand he took in Chattanooga during the 1950s by insisting his meetings be integrated.
“It was very controversial at the time, and not well-liked by a lot of people, but it was what he believed,” Graham said.