CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The late Rev. Billy Graham made the trip back to his hometown of Charlotte on Saturday, his motorcade passing by several places that held a special meaning to him in his life.
The processional left around 11 a.m. from the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove and headed toward Charlotte, reaching its destination at Graham's library.
Only 200 people or so were allowed on the grounds of the library to watch Graham’s earthly body arrive.
Graham, a husband and father to five -- and minister to millions -- returned to Charlotte, where he was born a little more than 99 years ago.
When Graham's body arrived at the library, his family embraced. His sister Jean Graham Ford reached up to touch her nephew Franklin Graham's face.
Then, Graham's son and sister, along with all his other family members, watched as his grandsons carried his casket into the library.
"He would say, ‘That's too much about me,” said Leighton Ford, Graham’s brother-in-law. “He would always say that. He didn't want it to be about him. He wanted it to be about the Lord."
Graham had the ear of presidents and the eyes of millions on him, but his family members said the beloved pastor always stayed humble.
"Billy would say, 'God won't give his glory to somebody else. I can't take His glory. I just serve Him,’” Ford said.
Ford said his wife, Graham’s sister Jean reminisced about the past.
"She says, ‘This is my big brother. He used to hold me on his shoulders and carry me on his shoulders. Now, to see him here, coming here, not on his shoulders, but with the Lord, it’s just very moving,’” Ford said.
Graham's message reached 185 of the world's 195 countries.
Now in his death, his family said Graham's message is once again being heard around the globe, making Saturday’s procession one to celebrate and not mourn.
"The overwhelming sense is not sadness,” Ford said. “There's certainly missing him, but a sense of thanksgiving for all of us. I think not only for us but for so many people."
Graham's body will lie in repose through Tuesday at the Graham Family Homeplace.
On Wednesday, his body will be brought to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., where it will lie in honor until Thursday.
There have only been three people before Graham to lie in honor at the Capitol's rotunda: Two Capitol officers killed in the line of duty and Rosa Parks.
Graham’s body will return to Charlotte for a private funeral service at the Billy Graham Library at noon on Friday.
Saturday's procession started near Graham’s home in Montreat. There, he was in a wooden casket crafted just for him, surrounded by family and friends.
Well-wishers came to the mountain chapel at the training center operated by his evangelistic association in Asheville and watched as the procession headed toward Graham's library in Charlotte.
“When I was 12, I saw my first Billy Graham crusade and it was the first time I felt the presence of God in my life,” said Charlotte resident Gwen Current.
The motorcade proceeded under overcast skies with eight SUVs and eight North Carolina State Highway Patrol vehicles.
“He was such a great man, just loved him,” said Gastonia resident Lee Anne Haney.
The procession was part of more than a week of mourning for "America's Pastor," culminating with his burial next week at his library in Charlotte.
At one point, when the motorcade turned onto South Boulevard, Bank of America Stadium was settled in the background where Graham's last crusade in Charlotte was held and drew 260,000 people over four nights.
“To see the people out here honoring a man who made such an impact on the world, it’s just an honor to be here,” Charlotte resident Amanda Brown said.
"I wouldn't have missed it at all,” said Charlotte resident Mac Hicklin.
Along the way, the respect for Graham filled in the air, much like the American flags draped along the route.
“I didn’t know everything about Billy Graham, but what I've learned after he's passed is that he was for all people,” Haney said.
As he returned to Charlotte, crowds still stood, almost in silence.
Official motorcade accompanying Rev. Billy Graham's casket in order:
- North Carolina Highway Patrol
- Hearse carrying Rev. Billy Graham's earthly body
- Rev. Franklin and Jane Graham
- Funeral personnel
- Virginia "Gigi" Graham, Anne Graham Lotz, Ruth Graham
- Family of Anne Graham Lotz
- Family of Anne Graham Lotz
- Will Graham and family
The motorcade made its way through Black Mountain, where hundreds of people lined the streets to watch the procession and pay their final respects to America's Pastor.
The processional passed through the intersections of West State Street and Highway 9 where Town Hardware, formerly Black Mountain Drugstore, is located. Billy and Ruth Graham used to visit the drugstore often.
Graham often rode his horse there from their home in Montreat, a little more than 2 miles away.
Just behind Town Hardware, Cherry Street becomes a dead end at the railroad tracks where the Black Mountain train station used to be. In the 1950s, Graham often boarded trains to Washington or New York at the Black Mountain train station, then flew out from one of those cities to preach internationally.
The motorcade continued down I-40, Highway 321, and I-85 to Charlotte.
Adults and children stood behind wooden barricades and yellow tape as police officers saluted and admirers captured the moment on cellphones. Fire trucks parked on overpasses along Interstate 40.
Once the processional made it to Charlotte, it went through the heart of uptown Charlotte and through South End.
The motorcade passed through the intersection of South Boulevard and West Boulevard and passed Grace Covenant Church, formerly Chalmers Memorial Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, which was the Graham family’s church during his childhood and teen years. He lived 5 miles away from the church.
The processional then made its way to the Billy Graham Library.
Graham's grandsons acted as pallbearers. His body will lie in repose inside his childhood home that is on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library on Monday and Tuesday so the public can come by and pay their final respects. His body will then head to Washington, D.C. where it will lie in honor in the Capitol rotunda.
The funeral will be held on Friday in a tent in the main parking lot of Graham's library in tribute to the 1949 Los Angeles tent revivals that propelled him to international fame, family spokesman Mark DeMoss said. About 2,000 people are expected at the private, invitation-only funeral.
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