- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Some General Assembly members say it’s time North Carolina native Rev. Billy Graham is honored with a statue inside the U.S. Capitol.

His likeness would replace a statue remembering a former North Carolina governor with links to the white supremacy movement over a century ago.

Bills filed in the state House and Senate last week ask a congressional committee to approve the replacement of the statue of former Gov. Charles Aycock for one of Mr. Graham, the Charlotte-born evangelist now living in Montreat.

Each state contributes two statues, many of which sit within Statuary Hall. Federal law allows states to request changes.

The 96-year-old Mr. Graham has preached in more than 185 countries and territories, offering counsel to U.S. presidents and participating in presidential inaugurations.

Mr. Graham was considered at the forefront of the evangelical movement of the second half of the 20th century, particularly in the use of television and other technology to spread his Christian message.

“He is someone that I think all of North Carolina can be proud of,” bill sponsor Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg, said Friday. Mr. Jeter told WRAL-TV he contacted the Graham family and got their permission before moving forward. Mr. Jeter’s district includes the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.

Aycock was governor from 1901 to 1905 and honored as a fierce advocate of universal public education. But the Democrat also backed segregation and used racial fears during his party’s campaign against Republicans and populists in the late 1890s.

“I’m quite frankly honored to be able to sponsor a piece of legislation” to honor Mr. Graham, Sen. Joel Ford, D-Mecklenburg, a co-sponsor of identical legislation in the Senate, told the Charlotte Observer.

The bills also would create a state committee designed to select a sculptor and obtain project funds. Any statue must be of a deceased person, according to replacement guidelines on Architect of the Capitol website, so it appears any Graham likeness wouldn’t be erected until after his death.

Praise for Aycock, who is still memorialized with a statue on the grounds of the old Capitol building in Raleigh, has diminished in recent years.

The state Democratic Party removed Aycock and Civil War Gov. Zebulon Vance from the title of an annual party gathering in Asheville. Leaders at East Carolina University in February voted to remove Aycock’s name from a residence hall. A similar action occurred last year at Duke University with a dormitory bearing his name.

GOP Rep. John Bell of Wayne County, where Aycock was born, said he’s been disappointed to see attacks on the governor’s legacy.

Aycock “did a lot to enhance education,” Mr. Bell told The News & Observer of Raleigh. Mr. Bell said he hasn’t taken a position on the Graham proposal yet but “loves what Billy Graham stands for.”

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