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This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Vernon William Patterson (Collection 5, T4) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words which were recorded were omitted. In a very few cases, the transcribers could not understand what was said, in which case "[unclear]' was inserted. Also, grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers of this transcript should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and even rule than written English.
. . . Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence of the speaker.
. . . . Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Word in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments made by the transcriber.
This transcript was completed by Wayne D. Weber in February 2001
Collection 5, T4. Interview of Vernon William Patterson by Paul Ericksen, March 5, 1985.
ERICKSEN: This is an oral history interview with Vernon W. Patterson by Paul Ericksen for the Billy Graham Center Archives. This interview took place at the Patterson's home in Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 5, 1985, at 10:00 o'clock. [pounding or someone on steps in background] When we finished our last interview we were just talking a little more about the Christian Businessmen's Committee International and the Association of Businessmen's Evangelistic Clubs. I just wanted to follow up on that a little bit further before we go on to some other things. The...
PATTERSON: I'll try to s...
ERICKSEN: ...Association later became called Fishers of Men, didn't it?
PATTERSON: Yes and several...it went by several other names too.
ERICKSEN: Do you recall what they were?
PATTERSON: Well, yes, I recall seve...several of them. I can...I can condense that. When you want me to start?
ERICKSEN: We're running now.
PATTERSON: You are now?
PATTERSON: Well, there...the Businessmen's Evangelistic Clubs as they came to be known or Billy Sunday Clubs have their origins back in the ministry of Billy Sunday.
ERICKSEN: I think we went over that...
PATTERSON: All right.
PATTERSON: Well, out of his Atlanta campaign  he spawned a strong group of men to witness for Christ. That spread quickly to Calif...to Chattanooga and then to other kinds...towns in the South. And after the Billy Graham...Billy [pauses] Sunday's campaign in 1924 in Charlotte they organized a Christian Men's Club as they called it here, which was one of the Billy Sunday Clubs. Well, they grew rapidly. I'm hurrying...I'm hurrying just to summarize the history of it in a few words. They grew rapidly over the South and became very numerous so that while...while we had...were...when we...after we had had summer conferences...summer conventions at Blue Ridge...at Blue Ridge Assembly Grounds...the YMCA Assembly Grounds at Blue Ridge out of Black Mountain, North Carolina. After we had met there a long time we went over to Ben Lippen to find larger quart...accommodations. And then we went to...we sent our president out to the World's Fair that met in Treasure Island out from San Francisco [1939-40 San Francisco, Golden Gate International Exposition].
ERICKSEN: And that's when....
PATTERSON: Boyd Hargraves was his name. And he...he was quite a speaker an...an orator a formal speaker.
ERICKSEN: Uh-huh. Is that when...and that's when you got the land from [Robert G.] LeTourneau.
PATTERSON: Yes. Well, then out there he mentioned that these Billy Sunday Clubs, as they were called in a general way, had grown so rapidly and so large that they were looking for a larger place to meet. And after he got through, a stranger came up to Boyd Hargraves, our president who had held the office for a number of years and lived in Chattanooga, this stranger came up to him and said, "I was very much interested in what you said about your group looking for a larger place to meet in." He said, "I'd like to...I'm building a factory down at Toccoa, Georgia, and I'd like to talk to you about making a place for it." It was...he was RG LeTourneau. So we met with RG LeTourneau on the hillside in October 1940 opposite the hillside across from his factory which he was...which he'd built there. And he pointed down the creek bed and he said, "You see all of this up here from way up to the right here down far to the left [clears throat] is a creek bed and I could build a dam down here to the left and fill that with water and make a lake.
ERICKSEN: And that's where the headquarters then was established?
PATTERSON: Yes. "I'll do that for you if you'll agree to hold your meetings here." So we drove over past his...we got in his jeep and rode over past his...his factory and around to...down the road and down the hill to the point he had pointed to where he expected to build a dam. And he said, "I could build a dam right here." And as he was talking to us he looked up on the hillside and there was one of his bulldozers. He motioned to him to come down and he said, "Fill in that creek right now." He started at once. His motto was "now." So he began there. We had told him we'd be glad to come. And by the next August he had the dam built and a steel...steel...steel auditorium and...with rooms to accommodate guests, probably five hundred or more, all built ready for us. So we...we moved our headquarters down there. And we had meetings there, oh, for many years. Eventually the northern group of laymen known as the Christian Businessmen's Committee International merged with us. They visited us down there a number of times and, of course, we visited them in their conventions and so we joined together.
ERICKSEN: When did the southern group become called the Fishers of Men?
PATTERSON: Well, during the...the...about 1940 along in there. They were...they were...went by different names in different places and were known generally in the...at the first as Billy...Billy Sunday Clubs. So we finally made it...change...made the name and we drew up as we had not previously done a doctrinal statement and for...formed a definite organization and call it National Laymen's Evangelistic Association.
ERICKSEN: Now I remember...I recall coming across a letter in some of the papers that you had sent about some of the discussions of naming the organization the Laymen's Evangelistic Organi...Association and there was some move to call it the Christian Laymen's Evangelistic Association. There was disagreement over whether to call it Christian Laymen or just Laymen.
ERICKSEN: Do you recall what that was about?
PATTERSON: Well, Haymaker was...Willis Haymaker was our field secretary and...and we had another one named Price that followed him, I believe. But we...there were not any serious differences there. It was just a question of which they thought best and it was decided to call it the Laymen's Evangelistic Association.
PATTERSON: And we adopted then a doctrinal statement which was very similar to the statement of the Christian Businessmen's Committee International up in the northern states.
ERICKSEN: When you were formulating the doctrinal statement was there any controversy at all?
PATTERSON: No, none at all. Willis Haymaker and I largely sat down and wrote it out and adopted it. It was practical...practically the same as had been adopted by the Christian Businessmen's Committee International, headed up at that time in Chicago I believe...no outside of Chicago. [pauses] Theo McCully [T. Edward McCully, Sr.] was our executive secretary. I was in a meeting...one of our...one of the conventions...I had been attending their conventions up north a good while before I actually...we...we actually became members of both. And I had attended the...the meeting up at Toledo, I believe, and we nominated, I believe it was there, we nominated [pauses] Theo McCully who was a treasurer for a company up in Minnea...in Milwaukee as general secretary. And he gave up his job up there and moved down to Chicago or outside of Chicago and he was our general secretary. And he...he remained in that office until after visiting...after the northern group came down many times to...to Lake Louise to our center, they merged into one. They were known in the north as the Christian Businessmen's Committee International. We just went by the National Laymen's Evangelistic Association.
ERICKSEN: Now I also noticed in 1940 there was a conference of business and professional men out of which grew the Christian Laymen's Crusade. Can you tell me a little about that?
PATTERSON: Yes [clears throat] I...I felt like we ought to make this a national evangelistic move. So at our annual...at our annual meeting, we were meeting in Raleigh [North Carolina].
ERICKSEN: Of the...
PATTERSON: About nineteen....
ERICKSEN: ...Association of....
PATTERSON: ...forty. I suggested...no I got RG LeTourneau to call a meeting in the LaSalle Hotel in Chicago a leader...to put on a program of evangelism for the whole nation. And we met there and formed...and put on a...a Laymen's...Christian Laymen's Crusade and put Chan...Channcey [pauses]...I'll get the name in a moment...Chauncey Nordlund as field secretary for them. And he went about over both the North and the South setting up crusades. I remember one in Augusta [Georgia] at which I attended. And then they had others elsewhere. And shortly after that...not too long after that they...the northern branch meeting at...at Lake Lou...Louise in convention down there decided just to unite. And Theo McCully was general secretary. This was about 1940. They united both of them.
ERICKSEN: Now how...when you held one of these crusades, what was the format of the program? How did you...?
PATTERSON: We would...we would...it was...it was strictly a promoted as a Laymen's effort but we got the cooperation of some of the pastors of who...with a large church. And we would go into a city and we would bring in outstanding laymen from the North and the South, businessmen. And the usual format, (you have some of our programs that I've given you), we would bring in outstanding Christian businessmen from different parts of the nation. And the...we would have us...one of them a song to lead the song. We'd advertise it in the newspaper as a Laymen's evangelistic program. And we would have...as to the program, we would have a song leader and then we would usually have at least two men speaking. The first one would give his personal testimony and then after that we'd have one...another one to follow and give us a Scripture appeal on...after taking a biblical explain...after giving a biblical explanation of the plan of salvation. Usually a testimony of someone who had been saved and then after that a biblical appeal as to salvation and followed by an invitation. And we would have more than one speaker. We'd have at least two, one would give his personal testimony and the closing one would give...would be appointed to not only give his testimony but to give a clear gospel...make clear the gospel plan of salvation and give an invitation.
ERICKSEN: How did the men respond?
PATTERSON: Oh, there was some [pauses] outstanding men at that time, outstanding businessmen North and South. And the...that was rather unusual in those days to have a strictly Laymen's program and it attracted large crowds because these men were outstanding men. And we'd...they would come and give their testimonies and then follow with a clear call to receive Christ and dedicate their lives to Him.
ERICKSEN: Do you...do you remember any reason in particular why you decided to use just laymen and not use well known evangelists?
PATTERSON: Well, [pauses] it was difficult to get the ministers to go...to join...to go into evangelistic campaigns. They were not really united on that. Their's was mainly the church organization and really...[pauses] I remember...I better bring my memory to...record as I see it some of the situation that developed. In the early part of this century, at the beginning, the churches, the denominational organizations, were divided into two groups, theo...theologically. One was postmillennial, the other was premillennial. The premillennialist laid emphasis on evangelism. The...the...the postmillennialist laid emphasis on trying to conquer the world for Christ. That was their commission. And they...when the century started things were so...so unusually bright they almost thought they had reached the millennium themselves. They didn't deny the millennium. There was no question about that at that time. But the...
ERICKSEN: What was the eventual outcome of...?
PATTERSON: ...the question was that the...the postmillennialists were going to bring in the kingdom. Over and over again I've heard them say, "If we're going to conquer the world we'll have to do better than this." And that was their idea. And then things were so rosy in the first decade of this century that they felt like they were right on the verge of it. Ford built the peace house...the peace hall over in Brussels for the nations of the world could meet...the heads of the nations...the world could meet and solve all their problems without going to war. And that was the atmosphere. Then the World Council of...the Federal Council of Churches started in that first decade. And they were...they were going to unite all the churches into one great world religion. And then came the...the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God, they were all children of God, and all of that. And then came World War I. Well, that just broke up all of their great hopes for world...their conquering the world. And during the...the...the postmillennialists were...were silenced. They had...they didn't...had no explanation for World War I. So they were practically silenced in the '20s. But the...there was a strong evangelistic movement that was...but these evangelists there were all permillennial.
ERICKSEN: Yeah, you mentioned that last night.
PATTERSON: Yeah, so the churches just closed their churches to evangelism and that resulted in the great rise of...of modernism as it was called there. Dr. Curtis Laws, editor of the Baptist publication [Watchman-Examiner] in the early '20s gave it the name of Modernism and Fundamentalism.
ERICKSEN: Now even with the...as...as modernism continued there...you mentioned yesterday there were these different evangelists, who were working. Why did the Laymen's group such as the Christian Laymen's Crusade, why did it use laymen instead of using some of these evangelists?
PATTERSON: Because if...if...if past...the pastors generally were apposed to it, the...the evangelism. Because practically all of the leading evangelist were premillennial. And they...the...the church organizations were practically all postmillennial.
ERICKSEN: So the laymen could live with it?
PATTERSON: Yeah. So we had to...we had...finally we gave up on trying to get the ministers to take the lead. For years here in Charlotte we pled with the ministers to put out another city-wide evangelism for at least two or three years. Well, we finally got them to appoint a committee. And as soon as the joint committee of ministers and laymen met the first thing the ministers did was to try to kill it by delay. So we finally took things in our own hands and went ahead. And finally we got to the point where we saw there was practically no use to ask the ministerial association to take the lead so we took the lead first and laid plans for our evangelistic campaigns and then asked all the ministers that wished to to cooperate with us.
ERICKSEN: Now is that what you did in 1947 when you invited Billy Graham?
PATTERSON: That was what we did all through the '30s and...and on. We had to do it because they were...they were more concerned about their...their organization especially in the days of the Depression. They didn't want anything to ruffle the shirt...the...the atmosphere in their churches. They...they wanted to just hold onto what they had and be quiet and not get into any controversy. And usually [tape distortion] the...the evangelists would...would preach...lay emphasis on repentance and...and acceptance of Christ and...and...salvation. Take the Ham-Ramsey Campaign [in 1934]. I studies that carefully [tape distortion]. It was violently opposed by the ministerial association as well as by the...one of the newspapers and by the city council.
ERICKSEN: You mentioned that in some other interviews.
PATTERSON: Yes, but we...Dr. Ham's campaign that was a great...caused a great controversy here in Charlotte but brought a real true revival to Charlotte. Dr. Ham's campaign might be summed up in three words: salvation...[pauses] no sin, salvation, and separation. I studied that campaign all the way through. And that was his program. I...when Dr. Ham had been here about two weeks or more and hadn't given an invitation, though he preached powerful gospel sermons, I went to his assistant and I said, [tape distortion] "Why does Dr....doesn't Dr. Ham give a...an invitation?" He said, "Well, he wants people to know what they're doing before they...they make their decision." And so his emphasis for the first three weeks or more was strictly on sin. Billy Graham and Grady Wilson said that they got so...they were...had started attending the meetings that they got so under conviction they thought Dr. Ham was pointing his finger right at them. So they decided to go up in the choir where they'd be behind him and he couldn't point to them. And that...that was the situation. Well, after he had...had laid the foundation that man was sinful and lost without Christ then he began to give the invitation. He wanted them to know what they were doing when they came. I remember how the crowds got so large that we had one night on Monday night a men's meeting only and the [tape distortion] tabernacle was filled with men. And even before Dr. Ham finished giving his invitation the men streamed forward. About nine hundred men came forward that night because he had laid a solid foundation. And then he moved on from there right into separation and there's were the conflict largely came about. But there were thousands saved in that meeting. And many I...I suppose hundreds went out into full time Christian work as a result.
ERICKSEN: One thing that I was wondering about...about the Ham Campaign that during the same time there was the Depression and...the economic depression in this country and there was the international crisis with...with Hitler in...in Europe and I understand there were lynchings taking place occasionally in the area. Did any of this have an impact on...?
PATTERSON: We had no lyn...no lynch...lynchings or anything like that, nothing of that, of course.
ERICKSEN: In this area?
PATTERSON: No, I never...there was no racial discord either. The...the main conflict was between the organized religion and the...the...the plain teaching of the...of salvation [pauses]... salvation...sin, sal...salvation, and separation. That was the summary that I came up with after studying and going through the Ham-Ramsey meeting. I...I summarized it with those three words: sin, salvation, separation.
ERICKSEN: You talked about how the ministerial association was opposed during those meetings and from other things you've said I've gathered that they also opposed the work of the...the evangelistic clubs.
ERICKSEN: In future meetings in the '47 Billy Graham meeting or the, I guess it was the '58 and '73 and now this most recent one in 1983, is the ministerial association in Charlotte more cooperative in these evangelistic efforts now?
PATTERSON: Well, I don't see any opposition there at all right now. They work together very wel...very well. But back in those days I remember that our Christian Bus...Christian Businessmen's Committee here...Christian Men's Club, we went to the ministers officially and asked them to put on a city-wide campaign, as they called it then, that we felt it was...that it was time to have such of a meeting. The last one had been with Billy Sunday in '24 and this about '30. Well, the ministers were uncooperative. We went officially to their ministerial association and...and issued the plea that they...they take the lead and that we would follow. Well, they ignored it at first and I remember the president of our committee...our evangelistic club one night go up and said, [clears throat] "Well, I don't mind having people disagree with me but I do mortally hate to be ignored." And that was what we were done so we finally went before them personally and they agreed to appoint a committee. Well, I was on that committee, a committee...joint committee of laymen and preachers. Well, the first meeting we started the...the ministers began at once to try kill it by delay. They wanted Gipsy Smith. Well, where was Gipsy Smith? Nobody knew. Well, one finally...the...the Salvation Army finally told us where...where Gipsy Smith was: he was out in California. Well, that delayed...delayed it. And finally after we'd had...had the meeting with Dr. Ham they did get Gipsy Smith to come. But it was that...at that time they would...they had to do something to recover from the res...the...the opposition that they had made to...to the Ham-Ramsey Meeting. Well, then...then...then the ministerial association themselves took the lead and they brought in George Truett and [G.] Campbell Morgan and something like that. But we found...I found by long experience that when I tried to...to try set up a meeting that it...it wouldn't...wouldn't do if I first went to the ministers first because I'd at once get opposition. So we decided the way we would have to work would...we would go on and call an evangelist, make our plans and then ask all the ministers who desired to cooperate. That's the only way we could get anything done.
ERICKSEN: Now isn't that what the Graham Association does now is they wait for an invitation from the churches?
PATTERSON: Well, you see [clears throat] Billy had got...got so...had grown to the point where he had so much following that the ministers couldn't well do otherwise. I've heard the ministers speak...I remember when we had Billy here for a meeting after he had become famous [pauses]. I remember one of the ministers said that, "Well, what shall we do with...shall we fight it or just make our minds to go along with it." That was the situation after. It was not so...it was not so until Billy's 1949 Los Angeles Campaign. That broke the ice there because what happened there was...see up to that time Billy was almost totally supported by the laymen, both North and South, both the Billy Sunday Club...Clubs in the South and the Christian Business Men's Committee in the North. Billy's 1949 campaign in Lou...in...in Los Angeles was set up largely by laymen. Well, after that he...he became nationally famous after the Hearst newspapers broadcasted him all over the country and Dr. [Harold] Ockenga promptly called Billy to the first church...his church in Boston. The Los Angeles Campaign ended about the last of November. He...I think it was seven weeks long and Billy had a hard time for about the first four weeks out there but finally the Hearst...Randolph Hearst decided to...to push him, told his men to push Billy Graham. And...and suddenly out there in Los Angeles the audito...the tent was just filled with reporters and he was just broadcast over the nation. Well, then...then the...the...the crowds began to come and Hamblen was...Hamblen [pauses]...what's his first name? He's well known the...the broadcaster and song writer, [Stuart Hamblen] he was converted and a number other very prominent men. One of the leaders of the gangsters [Jim Vaus] out there was converted. And another one that was very prominent was rescued in the...in the war, I believe...well, a number of internationally known people. So Dr. Ockenga promptly called Billy from Los Angeles to come to...to his church. This was last of December. Well...and they started in his church. Billy did come, and the first night the church was overcrowded. So they got Mechanics Hall and decided to prolong the meeting from...about ten days, I think. And there they...they...the Catholic press and others all began to play up Billy's meetings. So he'd already come into national prominence and everybody wanted to hear him and the newspapers, even the Catholic papers they...they all boosted that meeting.
ERICKSEN: Did they laymen's groups, such as the Christian Businessmen's Committee International continue to have it's own evangelistic meetings too?
PATTERSON: Oh, yes. We...we continued right on but from...after Billy's '49 meeting the ministerial association took it over. Well, when for example, Billy had his probably worst criticism in his, I believe it was the '52 or '54 meeting in Madison Square Garden in New York. [actually 1957] He...he came out at that time.... Up till that time his main support...up till time...time before Ockenga called him, his main support had been laymen. But after that time, he had become so prominent that when he went to Madison Square Garden for the meeting...for the first meeting he...he got the support of the ministerial association. Well, that brought in some of the worst criticism Billy every got.
ERICKSEN: Because of...?
PATTERSON: He...he put several of the leading [pauses]...leading Modernists and well known men that actually denied the doctrine, he put them...the doctrine of the gospel, he put them on his platform.
ERICKSEN: How did you feel about that?
PATTERSON: Well, we were all upset about that but the crowds were so...were so curious he had...he had one night there, New...New Years night I think, he had the squ...the square outside Madison Square Garden just all filled up. Seventy-five thousand people out there.
ERICKSEN: Did you ever talk to Dr. Graham about his including...
PATTERSON: Well, I wrote to him.
ERICKSEN: ...liberals on the platform?
PATTERSON: I wrote to him a number of things. I have some letters over there but I don't think I'll give them to you. [laughs] But Billy...Billy came out there and I don't think he fully understood what he was doing. I think he, (now I'm...this is just my opinion)...but I was in the...in the fight at that time against...against the National Con...the...the Federal Council of Churches. And there the...that...they were working strongly for a world wide conglomeration of religion around the world, one church [pauses], ecumenical church they called it. That was the greatest outlook that they saw. They...I remember one of my friends here in Charlotte said one time the great...greatest advance he thought was the ecumenical movement. Well, I don't think Billy really understood at that time what the ecumenical movement was. But that ecumenical movement was definitely aimed at bringing all the religions of the world together into one great church. And they were going to take in the Jews...well, Billy told me once himself...he...later I had...I had...on his mother's eightieth birthday...(there's a picture of it)...I had a long interview with him and he understood it. But he didn't at that time realize just what...what it was when he announced that in the...in that Madison...Madison Square meeting that he was [unclear] ecumenical evangelism. Well, he...what he meant was he going denominational...disregard denominational lines. But I was writing articles for the...published after...over and over again in the Southern Presbyterian Journal against this ecumenical movement. And he...I don't think Billy understood what it meant and...so he put [Garfield] Bromley Oxnam, a leader...one of the most radical leaders in the country up on the platform, there to lead in prayer. And he was...and then he...he just got the support of the ministerial association in New York and he...he...I have records over there of the conflict he caused up there. But Billy stuck to the gospel and some of these radicals up there were...were really saved in that meeting. And that's what Grady Wilson told me, "Well, we...we counted all these liberals as sinners too and we wanted to win them." Well, that was...but the...there was...Billy didn't realize the...I don't...I feel sure the tremendous conflict that was going on in Christian circles at that time. There was the [pauses]...Curtis Laws of...editor of one of the Baptist's papers, coined...coined the...Fundamentalists and...and Modernists. That was in the early '20s. Well, Bill...Billy I didn't think...
PATERSON: ...understood that meaning but when he...when he came out and said he was taking up the ecumenical move...evangelism and put these men, outstanding Modernists, like Harr...I don't know...Harry Emerson Fosdick, I don't know whether he was...he wasn't...I don't believe he was living at that time. But he did put Bromley Oxnam up there to sit [unclear] and then...then others too. He...he had probably the worst conflict that he ever had in his ministry right there.
ERICKSEN: Let's go back to the...the 1947 crusade here in Charlotte for a moment. How did you become the director of that crusade?
PATTERSON: Well, '47 now. Well, you see, we hadn't had any big meeting.
ERICKSEN: Chairman rather.
PATTERSON: Yeah...yeah. We hadn't had any big meeting since the Ham-Ramsey meeting in '34. And many of our men in the Christian Men's Club had been holding meetings regularly, praying for another revival. Well, I wasn't in that prayer meeting at that time [tape ends abruptly]